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State v. Cason

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 7, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL ALLEN CASON JR., Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Karen A. Romano, Judge.

         The defendant appeals from his conviction for first-degree murder.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Nerissa Nan Jennisch, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, JUDGE.

         Michael Cason Jr. appeals from his conviction for first-degree murder, claiming (1) his motion for new trial should have been granted because the weight of the evidence does not support his conviction and (2) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance.

         I. Weight of the Evidence.

         Cason maintains the weight of the evidence does not support his conviction for first-degree murder. Specifically, he argues there is a lack of forensic evidence linking him to the shooting death of Trenton Washington and maintains the testimony from eyewitnesses-who are inherently unreliable-was even less credible in this case because of the inconsistencies in the statements of the individuals throughout the proceedings and in comparison to each other.

         When the defendant files a motion for new trial alleging the verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence, the district court's analysis "involves questions of credibility and refers to a determination that more credible evidence supports one side than the other." State v. Nitcher, 720 N.W.2d 547, 559 (Iowa 2006). "'The district court has broad discretion in ruling on a motion for new trial, ' and thus our review in such cases is for an abuse of discretion." Id. (quoting State v. Reeves, 670 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Iowa 2003)).

         The undisputed evidence established that Washington suffered a gunshot wound to his right thigh, which perforated his femoral artery, ultimately causing his death. At trial, Cason disputed that he was the person who fired the gun.[1]

         Cason questions the jury's apparent reliance on the testimony of eyewitnesses, noting recent academic literature questioning the reliability of such testimony, but here, we believe there is less concern that the testimony is erroneous. First, four separate eyewitnesses identified Cason as the person who shot at Washington and his friend, Kazmond Meade, as they ran away. Each of the eyewitnesses was familiar with Cason before that night. See James E. Coleman Jr., et al., Don't I Know You? The Effect of Prior Acquaintance/Familiarity on Witness Identification, 36-Apr. Champion 52, 53-54 (April 2012). ("As a general matter, the accuracy of facial recognition and identification increases as a function of familiarity: ceteris paribus, people can recognize their own faces better than those of celebrities, the faces of celebrities better than those of acquaintances, and those of acquaintances better than those of strangers."); cf. State v. Shorter, 893 N.W.2d 65, 82 (Iowa 2017) (noting that while "[m]any of the most troublesome [eyewitness] cases involve identification of strangers, " "[c]areful consideration by counsel of eyewitness identifications extends to identifications of persons known to the witness and not simply to identification of strangers"). Additionally, all four had been spending time with Cason in the park immediately before the shooting occurred.

         The four eyewitnesses' testimony differed from each other in some respects-where Cason had obtained the gun, how many shots they heard fired, whether Cason chased after Washington and Meade before opening fire, and how long the group remained at the park after the shooting-but each linked Cason to the shooting. Meade testified he and Washington were in a physical scuffle with Cason, who then walked away and got a gun from one of his friends. Meade testified that as soon as he saw the gun, he and Washington ran away but Cason chased them and began firing. He believed he heard "about seventeen" shots.[2]Jacorey James testified he saw Cason arguing with Meade and Washington in the park before Meade and Washington ran off with Cason chasing them. He admitted he "didn't" or "couldn't" see anything in Cason's hand when Cason gave chase but testified he then heard gunshots-"maybe three." Makayla Walls testified she was at the park when a fight broke out; she denied knowing everyone at the park or remembering who was there but agreed Cason was involved in the fight. During direct examination, Walls testified as follows:

Q. Was [Cason] fighting?

A. Yeah. But I don't know who the other people is. I don't ...


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