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State v. Stickrod

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 21, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JUSTIN MICHAEL STICKROD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Monroe County, Lucy J. Gamon, Judge.

         Justin Stickrod appeals from his convictions of first-degree sexual abuse and child endangerment. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Theresa R. Wilson, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         Justin Stickrod appeals from his convictions of first-degree sexual abuse, in violation of Iowa Code sections 709.1 and .2 (2016), and child endangerment, in violation of section 726.6(1)(a), (3), and (5). He contends his trial attorneys were ineffective in several respects.

         Our review of constitutional issues, such as claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, is de novo. State v. Clay, 824 N.W.2d 488, 494 (Iowa 2012).

         To prevail on an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, a defendant must establish (1) counsel failed to perform an essential duty and (2) the defendant was prejudiced as a result. State v. Brothern, 832 N.W.2d 187, 192 (Iowa 2013). "We usually preserve claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for potential postconviction proceedings. However, if the record is sufficient to decide such claims, we will do so on direct appeal." State v. Elston, 735 N.W.2d 196, 200 (Iowa 2007) (citations omitted). "If the claim lacks prejudice, it can be decided on that ground alone without deciding whether the attorney performed deficiently." Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 142 (Iowa 2001).

         On February 4, 2016, Stickrod was home alone with his two-month-old daughter for approximately two and one-half hours while his wife went to a doctor appointment and ran errands. Stickrod was asleep or passed out when she returned.[1] The baby was in a swing wearing only a diaper and was crying in an unusual way. The mother discovered blood in the infant's diaper. She attempted to wake Stickrod but was unable to do so. The mother took the child to the county hospital.

         Registered nurse Christine Arauco was the first person to examine the baby girl, observing the child exhibited "mild distress" whimpering and crying. Nurse practitioner Nicole Topliff noted the child's "vaginal opening was gaping" and bleeding. Nurses observed tearing, bruising, redness, swelling, and a small amount of stool in the vaginal area. The child's mother testified a nurse informed her that the child had been sexually abused. Law enforcement was called.

         The child was transported by ambulance to Blank's Children's Hospital. Sexual assault nurse examiner Shannon Knudsen and Dr. Kenneth McCann examined the baby upon arrival at Blank and observed redness, swelling, bruising, and bleeding of the external genitalia with bilateral lacerations of the hymen and posterior fourchette. They also observed stool in the vaginal vault. Dr. McCann explained that infection is a major concern with such tissue damage because bacteria in that area of the body can easily enter the blood stream and cause a potentially fatal blood infection. Dr. McCann's concern about the extent of internal injuries prompted him to call in a pediatric surgeon to examine the baby under anesthesia. Both the nurse and doctor opined the child's injuries resulted from inflicted trauma.

         Under anesthesia, Dr. Onyebuchi Ukabiala, a pediatric surgeon, was able to examine the child's injuries further. Dr. Ukabiala testified the bridge of tissue between the anal and vaginal openings was "completely disrupted. It was torn. It was blown apart. With that type of injury, you have to worry about possibly extension into the pelvic organs." Dr. Ukabiala had to remove a significant amount of dead tissue to minimize the risk of infection and encourage proper healing. Repair of the nonviable torn tissue was not possible. The only treatment option was to leave the area clean but raw and uncovered-Dr. Ukabiala stated:

[Y]ou just leave it and allow the body and nature to slowly fill in the tissues with scar tissue, and as that is happening, the edges of the skin and mucus membrane will migrate to a covered raw area as it is healing, and in the end you are hoping that this ...

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