from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Randy V.
Abang-Ntuen appeals her conviction of willful injury.
C. Audlehelm of Audlehelm Law Office, Des Moines, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.
Abang-Ntuen appeals her conviction of willful injury
following a joint jury trial of her and her two codefendants.
She claims the district court abused its discretion in
denying her repeated motions for a mistrial based on the
behavior of a codefendant during the trial.
Background Facts and Proceedings
14, 2015, Danielle Abang-Ntuen, her sister, Beatrice
Abang-Ntuen, and their mother, Wonetah Einfeldt,
went to the home of Mulika Vinson to resolve a dispute
between Danielle and Mulika. A physical altercation
eventually ensued between Danielle, Beatrice, and Wonetah
against Mulika, but the parties dispute the order of events
and who initiated the exchange. Mulika was ultimately injured
as a result of the altercation.
August 5, Danielle, Beatrice, and Wonetah were all charged by
trial information with willful injury, a class "D"
felony, in violation of Iowa Code sections 703.1, 703.2, and
708.4(2) (2015). On October 21, the State filed a motion to
consolidate the trials as the three were charged as
codefendants and the charges were based on the same incident.
In response, Danielle filed a motion to sever and a
resistance to the motion to consolidate, arguing she would
suffer prejudice if tried with Beatrice and Wonetah. Danielle
contended Wonetah's pretrial statements and admissions
implicated her and would thus violate
Bruton. Additionally, she argued Wonetah's
admissions during interrogation could prejudice Danielle and
violate her right to a fair trial as the jury could infer
that Danielle had the same or a similar intent as Wonetah.
Danielle further argued that, if Wonetah declined to testify,
her right of confrontation, right to cross-examine witnesses,
and right to due process would be violated.
January 28, 2016, following a hearing, the court granted the
State's motion to consolidate and denied Danielle's
motion to sever, ruling that Wonetah's pretrial
statements and admissions concerned only her and her intent
and did not, expressly or by implication, identify or opine
on Danielle or Beatrice or their intent, thus distinguishing
this case from Bruton. Danielle's counsel renewed
the motion to sever twice, before and during the trial. The
district court denied both motions, ruling that severance was
not warranted because the state of the case remained the
three were tried together and Wonetah was disruptive during
the proceedings. Danielle's counsel joined in several
motions for a mistrial based upon this behavior, arguing that
Wonetah's behavior prejudiced her and infringed upon her
right to a fair trial. The court denied each of these
motions. The jury found Danielle and Wonetah guilty of
willful injury, as charged, while Beatrice was found guilty
of the lesser-included offense of simple assault.
noted, Danielle appeals.
Scope and Standards of Review
court reviews motions for mistrial for an abuse of
discretion. State v. Newell, 710 N.W.2d 6, 32 (Iowa
2006). A mistrial is appropriate when an impartial verdict
cannot be reached or the verdict would have to be reversed on
appeal due to an obvious procedural error in the trial.
Id. "[A] court is found to have abused its
discretion only when defendant shows prejudice which prevents
him from having a fair trial." State v.
Callender, 444 N.W.2d 768, 770 (Iowa Ct. App. 1989). We
will intervene only where the discretion has been clearly
abused. Newell, 710 N.W.2d at 32.
counsel made several motions for mistrial, we will discuss
each individually to determine if the court abused its
discretion by denying each one.
First Motion for Mistrial
raised the first motion for mistrial on the second day of
trial. At this time, jury selection had already been
conducted and the parties were giving their opening
statements. During the State's opening statement, Wonetah
said, "Lie." After this comment, the court warned
her that "[i]f I hear another word, we're going to
take a recess. Okay?" The State then resumed its opening
statement. At a later point in the State's opening, the
following exchange occurred:
[PROSECUTOR]: They did tell the officers that Ms. Vinson
threw the first punch. They also told the officers that Ms.
Vinson brandished a gun before the fight began. Defendant
Wonetah Einfeldt told the officers, I'm telling you right
now, I beat her ass.
MS. EINFELDT: Sure did.
[PROSECUTOR]: Jeremy Cooper is going to tell you Ms. Vinson
did nothing to initiate that fight. Nicholas Hardcastle is
going to tell you Ms. Vinson did nothing to initiate that
fight. Jeremy Cooper is going to tell you he saw no gun. He
heard nothing about a gun brandished by Ms. Vinson or anyone
else. Nicholas Hardcastle is going to tell you there was no
gun that he saw. He never heard anybody mention a gun.
Defendant Wonetah Einfeldt, she did have some injuries. She
had a scrape to her palm, and a scrape to her knee. The
officers called EMTs to the police station to tend to her.
They cleaned her knee and put a Band-Aid on it.
MS. EINFELDT: No, they didn't.
this remark, the court took a recess and asked that the jury
return to the jury room. The court admonished Wonetah for her
remarks. The admonishment consisted of the following
THE COURT: You may be seated. Okay. Ms. Einfeldt, I heard
three exclamations from you during the state's opening
statement. I warned you once that we would be taking a recess
if I heard anything else, and you didn't stop. Now,
ma'am, I'm going to ask you, are you able to control
yourself during the rest of this trial? When an attorney is
standing before the jury and making a statement, when an
attorney is asking a witness questions, when a witness is
answering those questions, you must be quiet. Can you do
MS. EINFELDT: Your Honor, I'm confused right here because
I don't understand. I didn't understand how the Court
can knowingly just lie. She knows she was 17 when she
committed the crime. It's a blatant lie.
THE COURT: Ma'am, your attorney, you are represented by
MS. EINFELDT: He's not doing anything.
THE COURT: Ma'am, there's ...