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State v. Wadsworth

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 16, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
NORMAN WADSWORTH, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Richard G. Blane (competency) and Paul D. Scott (trial), Judges.

         A defendant appeals his conviction for murder in the second degree.

          REVERSED AND REMANDED. Angela L. Campbell of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm PLC, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Timothy M. Hau, Assistant Attorney General, and Kelli A. Huser, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ. Blane, S.J., takes no part.

          TABOR, Judge.

         It is undisputed Norman Wadsworth killed Darlene Crook. What he disputes on appeal is whether he did so with malice aforethought and whether he was competent to stand trial. Wadsworth also contends his trial counsel was ineffective in not raising an insanity defense. Finally, he argues the district court erred in admitting autopsy photographs and evidence of a prior harassment conviction into the record.

         On our de novo review, we find Wadsworth did not have the ability, at the time of trial, to assist his attorneys in his defense. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings. We also find the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the jury to reach a verdict of second-degree murder.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Norman Wadsworth suffered from schizophrenia for decades and received no treatment. He had a contentious relationship with the manager at his apartment complex, Darlene Crook, who he believed was part of a government conspiracy to kill him. Eventually, Wadsworth was evicted from his apartment. After being homeless for several months, Wadsworth tried to take a bus to a motel. He boarded the wrong bus and ended up just three blocks from his old apartment complex. He walked to Crook's office and attacked her with a knife. Crook died of blood loss from the seventy-one distinct wounds inflicted by Wadsworth.

         A resident of the apartment complex heard the commotion and restrained Wadsworth until police could respond. Speaking with police officers, Wadsworth admitted he knew he was killing Crook, had contemplated doing so for some time, and entered the apartment complex for that reason. Wadsworth said competing voices inside his head were telling him to either stab or not stab Crook. He believed Crook could hear the voices too. The State charged Wadsworth with first-degree murder.

         Wadsworth's attorneys moved for a hearing to determine their client's competency to stand trial. At the hearing, the defense presented the testimony of psychologist Alan Goldstein, and the State countered with the testimony of psychiatrist Michael Taylor. The district court found Wadsworth competent, and the charges proceeded to a jury trial.[1] The jury found Wadsworth guilty of murder in the second degree. On appeal, Wadsworth argues he was not capable of assisting in his defense, insufficient evidence supported the verdict, trial counsel was ineffective for not raising an affirmative defense of insanity, and the autopsy photographs and evidence of his harassment conviction were unfairly prejudicial.

         II. Analysis

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence for Murder in the Second Degree

         Although we ultimately conclude Wadsworth was not competent, we must first address the sufficiency of the evidence for the conviction. We do this because if the evidence was insufficient, Wadsworth would be entitled to acquittal on the murder charge and double jeopardy would bar retrial. See United States v. Gonzalez-Sanchez, 825 F.2d 572, 588 n.56 (1st Cir. 1987) ("The double jeopardy clause does not prevent the retrial of a defendant after his conviction has been reversed on appeal unless the reversal was grounded on the insufficiency of the evidence at trial. . . . Even if the appellate court finds alternative grounds for reversal, it must consider the defendant's challenge to this sufficiency of the evidence to ensure that the prohibition against double jeopardy is upheld.").

         Wadsworth contends the record does not contain sufficient evidence of malice aforethought to support the verdict of murder in the second degree.[2] The jury was instructed malice aforethought is an element of murder in the first and second degree. See Iowa Code §§ 707.2, 707.3. First-degree murder requires an additional element that the defendant "acted willfully, deliberately, premeditatedly and with a specific intent to kill Darlene Crook." See Iowa Code § 707.2.

         We review challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence for errors at law. See State v. Hansen, 750 N.W.2d 111, 112 (Iowa 2008). We will uphold the jury's verdict if it is supported by substantial evidence. State v. Rooney, 862 N.W.2d 367, 371 (Iowa 2015). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, "including all reasonable inferences that may be fairly drawn from the evidence." State v. Sanford, 814 N.W.2d 611, 615 (Iowa 2012). We will deem the evidence sufficient if it could convince a rational jury the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Rooney, at 371. Evidence is not substantial if it raises only suspicion, speculation, or conjecture. State v. Howse, 875 N.W.2d 684, 688 (Iowa 2016).

         To convict on second-degree murder, the instructions required the jury to find (1) Wadsworth stabbed Darlene Crook; (2) Crook died as a result of being stabbed; and (3) Wadsworth acted with malice aforethought. Wadsworth challenges only the third element. The court instructed the jury:

"Malice" is a state of mind which leads one to intentionally do a wrongful act to the injury of another or in disregard for the rights of another out of actual hatred, or with an evil or unlawful purpose. It may be established by evidence of actual hatred, or by proof of a deliberate or fixed intent to do injury. It may be found from the acts and conduct of the defendant, and the means used in doing the wrongful and injurious act.

         The court further instructed, "'Malice aforethought' is a fixed purpose or design to do some physical harm to another which exists before the act is committed. It does not have to exist for any particular length of time." The jury may properly consider the "fierceness and atrocity of the attack, the circumstances under which it was made, the nature and extent of the injury inflicted, the condition of the body and wearing apparel, the deadly ...

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