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State v. Hicks

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 21, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
EDDIE HICKS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Thomas A. Bitter, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his conviction for murder in the first degree. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Bradley M. Bender, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran, Doyle, Tabor, and McDonald, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge

         Eddie Hicks appeals his conviction for first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend Kahdyesha Lemon. Hicks challenges (1) the denial of his motion to suppress statements he made to police officers at the hospital; (2) the sufficiency and the weight of the State's evidence rebutting his intoxication and justification defenses; and (3) the denial of his request for substitute counsel. Hicks also raises several pro se claims.

         On the suppression issue, we do not find admission of his statements requires reversal of his conviction. The record supports the district court's determination regarding the sufficiency and weight of the evidence. And we find no abuse of discretion in the court's denial of substitute counsel. None of the claims raised in Hicks's pro se supplemental brief entitle him to a new trial, though we preserve his ineffective assistance of counsel claim for postconviction proceedings.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Hicks and Lemon began dating in 2006 in Chicago. They had a tumultuous relationship marked by infidelity and abuse. They separated after an argument in May 2015. Around Memorial Day that year Hicks called Lemon's mother threatening to "flatten [Lemon's] head into a pancake" and saying "[Lemon] is going to be one daughter [she] don't have anymore." Hicks also said he recently discovered Lemon had misrepresented how old she was and because she was underage when their relationship began, Hicks expressed concern he "could be doing time as a result." Around the same time, Hicks called Lemon's sister with this dark message: "[Y]ou all going to catch you all sister in the casket; tell your mama to get this casket ready."

         Hicks and Lemon reconciled on June 12, 2015. They took a bus from Chicago to Dubuque four days later. When they arrived in Dubuque, according to Hicks, "everything was fine." But Hicks later began to feel faint and sought medical attention. The next day started off as uneventful. Lemon went to work; later they picked up Hicks's medication, ate, smoked marijuana, and napped.

         Hicks later said that upon waking up, he accessed Facebook on his phone, prompting an argument with Lemon. According to Hicks, he got up and went into the bathroom and Lemon threw a phone at him. Then the fight turned physical and Hicks recalled Lemon trying to hit him with a frying pan and stab him with a paring knife. Hicks said he returned Lemon's attacks.

         Eventually, he fled the apartment and demanded water and alcohol from neighbors. A witness hanging out with friends at another apartment said she heard "somebody was yelling for help" and found Hicks with "blood all over him." She went to get water, but when she came back, Hicks was demanding alcohol, or "otherwise he's going to kill [them.]" Another witness gave Hicks a half-full bottle of Paramount rum and he "chugged it all."

         Police responded to two 911 calls reporting a stabbing. One of the callers reported Hicks falling from a ten-foot retaining wall outside the apartment building. In an alley near Lemon's apartment, officers found Hicks sitting on the ground, bleeding from "a couple stab wounds." As the squad car pulled up, the first responding officer planned to render medical aid, but then she saw Hicks "scooting" toward her. Hicks started to grab the officer's leg and try to force his way into her squad car, so she pinned him against the door and sprayed him with mace. The second officer to arrive observed that Hicks's conduct veered from erratic to calm. Hicks was able to answer the officer when asked for his first and last names, where he was staying, and what happened. Hicks said he'd been "stabbed up." Hicks also identified Kahdyesha as the person who stabbed him.

         Emergency medical personnel loaded Hicks onto a cot and into an ambulance. He was handcuffed to the cot and a police officer rode along in the ambulance to the hospital. An emergency room doctor described Hicks as "intermittently agitated" and recalled at times "his language was difficult to understand" and other times he "spoke very clearly." Hicks had benzodiazepines, alcohol, and phencyclidine (PCP) in his system, according to a toxicology report.

         Before he was sedated by medical staff so they could treat his injuries, Hicks spoke briefly with Officer Cory Tuegel in the emergency room. Tuegel asked Hicks just seven questions, starting with "what happened?" Hicks responded: "I loved her too much." Hicks clarified he was talking about his girlfriend, Kahdyesha Lemon. Hicks said Lemon was "home sleeping" but also acknowledged she suffered stab wounds. Hicks soon ended the conversation.

         Back at the apartment building, officers discovered Lemon outside, suffering from more than one-hundred incised stab wounds. Inside the apartment, the floors were so soaked in blood that it was difficult for officers to keep their footing. Blood splatter glazed the walls of the bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. An officer testified he could not remember an area of the home not covered in blood. Officers found a bent frying pan matted with hair and blood. Officers also located a paring knife on the bed and later discovered two of Lemon's teeth, with the "whole root" attached, under the rug.

         Medics rushed Lemon to the hospital and straight into a trauma room. Lemon was given roughly three times her blood volume to improve her blood pressure. Doctors shocked her heart and gave her epinephrine fifteen to twenty times to restart her heart. Despite these efforts, Lemon died three to four hours later of hemorrhagic shock. She was twenty-one years old.

         Hicks woke up the next day in the hospital and asked about Lemon. Officers Brendan Welsh and Nick Schlosser set up an audio-recorder in Hicks's hospital room and interviewed him. According to Hicks, Lemon was angry because she just found out from Facebook that Hicks had been cheating on her "on and off for ten years." Hicks told them Lemon hit him with a pan and was trying to stab him. Hicks told the officers: "I hit her once probably, twice, all I was trying to do was get this girl up off of me." He later admitted hitting her as many as four times in the head. Hicks also said Lemon tried to stab him in the heart. He showed the officers he had four or five cuts to his chest and neck. But Hicks said he was able to take the knife from her. He admitted cutting her multiple times "anywhere" on her body. He also said he "knew he was stronger than her, that [he] could get away from her." Hicks told the officers he last smoked PCP four days before the stabbing. When Hicks was discharged from the hospital, he left in police custody.

         The State charged Hicks with murder in the first degree, in violation of Iowa Code sections 707.1 and 707.2(1)(a) (2015). He pleaded not guilty claiming self-defense and intoxication. Hicks filed a motion to suppress his statements to Officers Tuegel, Welsh, and Schlosser. After concluding Hicks was not in custody when questioned at the hospital, the district court denied Hicks's motion to suppress. Hicks also filed pro se motions requesting a change of venue and a new presiding judge. Hicks also filed a pro se motion seeking substitute counsel and claiming his legal team treated him poorly and lied to him. The court set Hicks's motion for hearing. At the hearing Hicks expressed his dissatisfaction with his attorneys and the court. The court denied his motion for substitute counsel.

         Hicks waived his right to a jury trial and requested a change of presiding judge. The court noted his waiver of a jury trial, denied his request for a change of judge, and proceeded with a bench trial. Several responding officers and emergency medical personnel testified, as did Officers Tuegel, Welsh, and Schlosser. Lemon's mother and sister also testified about Hick's threatening phone calls. Both parties also presented expert testimony regarding the intoxicating effects of PCP. Hicks testified in his own defense. After a six-day trial, the court rejected Hicks's self-defense and intoxication defenses and found him guilty of first-degree murder. Hicks now appeals.

         II. Scope and Standards of Review

         We review Hicks's suppression and ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims de novo. See State v. Young, 863 N.W.2d 249, 252 (Iowa 2015); State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2006). For those constitutional claims, we independently evaluate the totality of the circumstances. State v. Turner, 630 N.W.2d 601, 606 (Iowa 2001). We examine challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence for legal error. See State v. Sanford, 814 N.W.2d 611, 615 (Iowa 2012). We review Hicks's challenges to the denial of a new trial, the denial of substitute counsel, and the judge's recusal decision for an abuse of discretion. See State v. Lopez, 633 N.W.2d 774, 778 (Iowa 2004); State v. Millsap, 704 N.W.2d 426, 432 (Iowa 2005). A court abuses its discretion if it acts unreasonably or bases its conclusions on untenable grounds. Millsap, 704 N.W.2d at 432.

         III. Analysis

         A. Did the District Court Properly Deny the Motion to Suppress?

         Before trial, Hicks moved to suppress all statements he made when interviewed by police at the hospital, alleging they were obtained in violation of the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section l0 of the Iowa Constitution. The district court denied the suppression motion.

         To be admissible, Hick's inculpatory statements to police must pass a "dual test." See State v. Countryman, 572 N.W.2d 553, 557 (Iowa 1997). We first decide if police were required to give Miranda warnings, and, if so, whether police properly gave them. Id.; see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 479 (1966) (holding before police subject a person to a custodial interrogation, they must inform him of the right to counsel, that counsel may be appointed if he cannot afford it, his right to remain silent, and that any of his statements may be used as evidence against him). Second, we resolve whether the statement is voluntary and satisfies due process. Countryman, 527 N.W.2d at 557. Miranda warnings are not required unless police subject the suspect to both custody and interrogation. Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 429 (1984).

         1. Statements to Officer Tuegel

         Hicks contends the district court should have suppressed his statements to Officer Tuegel made shortly after arriving at the hospital. He asserts Tuegel's bedside questioning amounted to a custodial interrogation, and Tuegel did not provide Hicks with his constitutionally guaranteed Miranda warning. The State counters the ...


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