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State v. Schroeder

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 16, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey A. Neary, Judge.

         Timothy Schroeder appeals from judgment and sentences entered upon his convictions for first-degree murder, going armed with intent as a habitual offender, and being a felon in possession of a firearm as a habitual offender.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Mary K. Conroy, 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 Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         Timothy Schroeder appeals from his convictions for murder in the first degree, going armed with intent as a habitual offender, and being a felon in possession of a firearm as a habitual offender. Schroeder argues (1) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the corroboration of testimony by his wife, (2) the court erred in failing to redact statements from his recorded interview with law enforcement, and (3) his stipulation to the habitual-offender sentencing enhancements was procedurally faulty and, thus, not knowing and voluntary.

         Schroeder's ineffectiveness claim fails because he cannot prove the claimed breaches of duty resulted in prejudice. We find no abuse of discretion in the extent Schroeder's recorded interview was redacted. Finally, while the convictions for going armed with intent and for being a felon in possession of a firearm are supported by substantial evidence, because the court ordered the sentences imposed upon those convictions are to be served consecutive to the life-without-parole (LWOP) sentence, and there is a possibility a LWOP sentence could be commuted or the conviction overturned notwithstanding our decision, we reverse Schroeder's stipulation to being a habitual offender and remand for further proceedings on the sentencing enhancement and resentencing on the convictions for going armed with intent and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         At about 7:00 a.m. on January 9, 2015, Nicole Gray's seventeen-year-old neighbor entered Gray's home to care for her pets while Gray and her children were out of the country. The minor found Gray's boyfriend, Dustin Wilder, lying face down in a pool of blood in the kitchen and unresponsive.

         Emergency response personnel were called and determined Wilder was deceased. Law enforcement officers arrived approximately five to ten minutes after the medical responders. An officer noted an empty shell casing on the floor between the kitchen and the living room. A blue chair with a broken spindle was leaning against the refrigerator. Wilder's hat was upside down on the kitchen floor and there were beer cans on the table.

         The county medical examiner (ME) came to the house but was unable to determine the cause of death at that time. Later that afternoon, the ambulance transported Wilder's body to the hospital for an autopsy, which revealed a gunshot wound to the left backside of Wilder's head. There was no exit wound. Wilder also had a small laceration near the bullet entry and an abrasion by his right ear. The ME removed bullet fragments for testing. Law enforcement later located a metal fragment in the blood on the kitchen floor. Based on the blood splatter and the location of the wound, the ME opined Wilder had been shot while he was lying on the floor.

         While the police were at Gray's home, James Munhofen arrived. Munhofen had been alerted by a friend that the police were at Gray's house and he went over to see what was happening. Munhofen told police that he and Wilder had been at the Sloan Tap the night before and Munhofen had left before Wilder. Police then learned from the bartender that Wilder had left the bar with Amanda and Timothy Schroeder at about 2:00 a.m. on January 9.[1] The police obtained the video surveillance recordings from the bar and an "IOU" note Amanda had left with her contact information. Law enforcement subsequently interviewed several individuals and were able to piece together the following.

         On Tuesday, January 6, 2015, Schroeder was paroled and released from custody in the Sioux City area. At about 11:00 a.m., Schroeder was picked up at a friend's house by Dustin Duncan and Amanda in Amanda's white Buick. Amanda did not have a driver's license, and Duncan, who had known Amanda for a couple months, was a homeless methamphetamine user who helped Amanda by driving for her. The record shows Amanda appeared to have no permanent address and had been staying at different places, including motels, her grandmother's house in Sioux City, and the Guzman residence in South Sioux City.

         Duncan asked about Schroeder having to report to his parole officer. Schroeder told Amanda he did not have to immediately report. Schroeder used Amanda's cell phone while they were riding in the car. Duncan overheard Schroeder on the phone "ranting and raving" and talking about weapons including a pistol and an "AR".[2] Duncan heard Schroeder say he was supposed to go to a residential treatment facility (RTF) but he was not going to turn himself in stating, "[T]he next time they're going to get [me] is going to be for murder." Amanda recalled Schroeder saying if he was going to "go back" it was going to be for "something big."

         About 11:50 a.m. on January 6, several text messages were sent from Amanda's phone to Corey O'Neill, a person Schroeder had met in jail. The first stated, "I need a pistol for the day and I'll give u a glock 40 when I get it this week"; followed by, "Actually I need it by 3ish sorry bro"; then, "Fuck seriously. I'm not gonna use it I think. Just need it going into hostile territory"; and then, "We need to talk about some things when u can if u don't mind." At 3:20 p.m., a text from O'Neill's phone to Amanda's phone stated, "I got a chick with me that can't know shit."

         At about 3:00 p.m., Duncan was feeling unsettled by Schroeder's behavior and asked to be dropped off. Schroeder then drove Amanda's car to O'Neill's house to look at a .40 caliber Taurus semi-automatic pistol. O'Neill let Schroeder take the Taurus pistol in a black case along with two full clips and a partial box of ammunition. Amanda was in O'Neill's house but was not in the room where Schroeder and O'Neill were discussing the gun.

         At 5:25 p.m. on January 7, Schroeder sent O'Neill the following text: "Dude I seriously about shot this dude because he was getting stupid." At some point that day, Schroeder and Amanda went to a rural location between Salix and Sloan and both test-fired the gun. The gun jammed. At 10:22 p.m., Schroeder sent a text to O'Neill: "Gun jams 2 much." O'Neil responded, "It needs cleaned."

         On Thursday, January 8, Schroeder sent texts to O'Neill about covering for him with his parole officer.[3] That afternoon Schroeder called his parole officer, Emmanuel Scarmon, claiming that he did not know he was supposed to report when released. Schroeder then set an appointment for 9 a.m. on January 9.

         Thursday evening, Amanda and Schroeder headed to Sloan. Amanda hoped to meet a former boyfriend, Corey Schuknecht, to collect a sweatshirt and forty dollars he owed her. Driving in near-blizzard conditions, they got stuck in a snow drift on the edge of Sloan near Archie Kelly's home. Kelly first provided Schroeder with a shovel, and later helped Schroeder pull the car out with twine attached to his truck and the Buick's radiator bracket. Schroeder told Kelly they were from Omaha and were headed to Sioux City to meet friends.

         A few minutes after getting unstuck, Schroeder had to stop near a bank in Sloan to tie down the hood because the latch had broken during the towing efforts. At 11:04 p.m., Woodbury County Deputy Patrick Hinrichsen drove by a man working on the hood of a vehicle in front of a bank and offered to help. The man (Schroeder) declined.

         That same night, Thursday, January 8, Munhofen and Wilder met at the Sloan Tap after work and then left to go to Wilder's home to play video games. They returned to the bar around 9 p.m.

         Sometime after midnight, Schroeder and Amanda arrived at the Sloan Tap because Amanda knew Schuknecht went there on occasion. Munhofen was there with Wilder. Amanda was familiar with Wilder and the bartender, Lisa Murdock, because they had all lived in the same apartment building some years earlier. Wilder helped Schroeder secure the hood of Amanda's car with wire. Wilder spoke to Amanda and reportedly bought her a drink. Schroeder spoke very little to anyone. Also in the bar during the early-morning hours were patrons Emily Musack and Richard Pope. Everyone was drinking except Schroeder, and Murdock believed that Amanda and Wilder exhibited signs of intoxication. Patrons also saw Amanda playing with a Taser, but she was not threatening anyone with it. No one observed any problems between Munhofen and Wilder, and no one heard any arguments, raised voices, or fighting between Schroeder and Wilder.

         Around 1:30 a.m. on January 9, Munhofen decided to go home but Wilder wanted to stay. Murdock recalled Schroeder and Amanda offered to give Wilder a ride home. Munhofen recalled it was Schroeder who offered Wilder a ride. Wilder did not have his cell phone, having either lost or misplaced it earlier in the evening. Munhofen loaned Wilder forty dollars before leaving the bar. Munhofen left without Wilder.[4] Musack left the bar shortly after Munhofen. Pope was still there when Wilder left with Schroeder and Amanda around 1:50 to 1:55 a.m. Before leaving, Amanda tried to pay her tab of $19.50 with a credit card. The card was declined and Amanda gave Murdock an IOU with Amanda's name, address, [5]and phone number. The IOU states, "Will be back in morning to pay or ask Cory Schu[knecht]"[6] and included Schuknecht's phone number.

         According to Amanda, she and Schroeder, drove Wilder to Gray's house and went inside with him. Amanda went to use the bathroom and recalled Wilder sitting in a blue chair at the kitchen table and Schroeder standing by the refrigerator. Amanda joined the men in the kitchen, sitting on a bench by the kitchen table. She and Wilder drank more. Amanda again left the kitchen and when she returned, Schroeder said, "[Y]ou don't want to see this, " pushing her back around. Amanda heard a gunshot and turned to see Wilder on the floor and Schroeder standing with a gun in his hand. Pointing the gun at her, Schroeder told Amanda to go to the car, and she complied. They drove back to Sioux City and spent the rest of the night in a parking lot. Schroeder and Amanda then drove to the RTF building and Schroeder attended his 9:00 a.m. appointment with his parole officer. At the meeting, Schroeder told Scarmon he had been with his wife the last few days and had gone to Omaha with her, and he was planning to work with or for his friend Corey O'Neill. Scarmon arrested Schroeder for a parole violation. Scarmon had Schroeder give his wallet, ring, and cell phone to Amanda, who was still in her car in the parking lot.

         Schroeder called Amanda from jail at 9:44 a.m. asking her to give O'Neill a message, and she asked if he wanted her "to give that back to Corey." At 9:50 a.m. Amanda sent a text to O'Neill, "U awake." Not until 1:45 p.m. did O'Neill respond with the text, "Barely." Amanda then told O'Neill Schroeder was in jail, and "I gotta drop something off to you."

         Because Amanda did not have a license, she called for Jose Guzman (Maria Guzman's son) to pick her up and drive her from the RTF back to Guzman's house. Carlos Mendez also lived there with his wife and two daughters in a basement room he rented. Amanda asked Guzman and Mendez to help her clean out her car because she did not want anything to do with the gun (the Taurus) that was in the backseat. Amanda asked Mendez to store the gun. Mendez testified Amanda forced him to take the gun because she had done him favors in the past. Mendez placed the gun and accessories in a sack on a wall. Amanda then left with Guzman for several hours. When she returned, Amanda had groceries for Mendez's family.

         That afternoon, Mendez went to a relative's house and asked the relative to keep the gun for a day. Mendez promised to return the following day and collect it. His relative hid the gun in a box behind the television.

         In the meantime, after speaking to Munhofen, Woodbury Detective Norm Petersen spoke to Murdock, who gave the detective Amanda's IOU with her contact information. Deputies met Amanda late Friday afternoon at her grandmother's house in Sioux City. Amanda told them about Schroeder's efforts to acquire a gun, where he had tested the firearm between Salix and Sloan, and their car troubles in Sloan on Thursday night. She also told them about Duncan and O'Neill. Detective Petersen interviewed O'Neill who told him about giving Schroeder a firearm, and Amanda's text telling him Schroeder was back in jail and that she wanted to return something to him.

         Around 10 p.m. deputies brought Amanda in for a second interview to find the location of the firearm. In their presence, Amanda contacted Jose Guzman who told her that Mendez had the gun. Deputies continued questioning Amanda while South Sioux City officers made arrangements to search the Guzman home. Officers woke up Maria Guzman and the other occupants late Friday night or early Saturday morning. They found Mendez in the basement. There Sergeant Jeremy Grace observed what appeared to be a .40 caliber bullet on the floor and an empty ammunition box. Mendez told officers where he had taken the gun and led them to his relative's home. There officers located a box containing the loaded Taurus pistol, a second loaded magazine, and bullets in a clip. A short time later Detective Petersen took possession of the firearm and related items.

         Detective Petersen spoke to Amanda a third time on Saturday morning, January 10, and had her take deputies to the location where she and Schroeder had test-fired the gun obtained from O'Neill. There, deputies found thirteen shell casings.

         Detectives Jansen and Peterson interviewed Schroeder on January 13. Schroeder claimed he had not been told to report to his parole officer immediately upon release. He told detectives he had been doing drywall and flooring work with O'Neill and he and Amanda were staying with O'Neill. Schroeder did not initially admit that they were in Sloan late Thursday night into early Friday morning. He later admitted to being in Sloan at the Sloan Tap and to driving Wilder home. However, Schroeder maintained he and Amanda helped Wilder inside, helped him find his cell phone, and then left and headed back to O'Neill's house. Schroeder insisted he had told them everything. He also denied possessing or firing a gun during the last week.

         On January 17, Gray found Wilder's cell phone outside her house near the curb and turned it over to Deputy Derek Brand.

         Schroeder was charged with murder in the first degree, going armed with intent as a habitual offender, and being a felon in possession of a firearm as a habitual offender. Prior to the start of trial, Schroeder ...

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