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State v. Tucker

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 5, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
KASHENNA NICHOLE TUCKER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Wapello County, Daniel P. Wilson, Judge.

         Kashenna Tucker appeals her conviction for child endangerment resulting in death. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Nerissa N. Jennisch, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Zachary Miller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., Doyle, J., and Scott, S.J. [*]

          VOGEL, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Kashenna Tucker appeals her conviction for child endangerment resulting in death. She argues the evidence is insufficient to prove she knowingly acted in a manner that created a substantial risk to the decedent's safety. We find the evidence is sufficient to support her conviction, and we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         In January 2014, Tucker lived in Ottumwa with W.E, who was born in January 2011.[1] Tucker met W.E.'s mother in Chicago, and Tucker agreed to temporarily act as caretaker for W.E. Even though Tucker and W.E. were unrelated, she referred to W.E. as her nephew.

         In a series of interviews with investigators, Tucker said she left W.E. with her friend Latisha Johnson for a few hours on Sunday, January 19, 2014. Johnson, although uncertain of the date, testified W.E. was "real quiet" when she watched him but he ate that afternoon and otherwise seemed normal at the time. In her interview, Tucker said she took W.E. to a park later that day where he fell down a series of concrete steps. Tucker said W.E. cried and complained that his "tummy" hurt after the fall and she took him home. She noticed a scrape on his eye and a bump on his head from the fall. She said on Monday he stayed in bed and complained his tummy hurt, but she thought "it was something that I could handle." That Monday, she scheduled an appointment at their usual medical clinic for W.E. to be seen on Thursday, January 23.

         Tucker told investigators that when W.E. woke on Tuesday, January 21, she made him stand up and move around, at which point he began throwing up "brown, red vomit" that appeared to contain blood. She said she called the medical clinic and asked for an earlier appointment, but they said they could not see him sooner and she should take him to the emergency room. Tucker's phone showed she called the clinic at 8:07 that morning. Her phone also showed she received a call from and exchanged five texts with an unidentified person around 10:00 that morning. She sent one text at 10:04 that said, "Im home." Investigators later found receipts inside a shopping bag in Tucker's home. The receipts show purchases from two separate Ottumwa stores on Tuesday morning at 9:38 and 9:48. The items purchased include bath tissue, moist wipes, baking soda, and ointment. The items were purchased using debit cards that match the last four digits of cards in Tucker's name. She said she tried cleaning the vomit that morning. Investigators later found several stains that appeared to be brown vomit throughout her home, including on carpet and hard flooring in several locations, on tissues in the trash, and on unwashed children's bedding inside a washing machine.[2] Some of the stains on the carpet were covered with baking soda, and there was a mop with a bucket and water in the kitchen.

         Around noon on Tuesday, January 21, Tucker brought W.E. into the emergency room in Ottumwa. He had minor, inefficient breathing and no pulse. Medical staff performed CPR for forty-five minutes before he regained a pulse, at which point they arranged to transport him to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) in Iowa City for advanced care. At 2:38, Tucker told her boyfriend via text message, "if im arrested please come iowa city." W.E. remained in the Ottumwa emergency room for a couple of hours and showed some improvement before being airlifted to UIHC later that afternoon. During the flight to Iowa City, he lost his pulse around 3:55. Staff continued providing emergency care in the air and at UIHC. He never regained a pulse at UIHC, and he was pronounced dead at 4:45 that afternoon.

         W.E.'s emergency physician at UIHC noted bruises and abrasions across his head, which led him to be concerned W.E. had suffered a head injury. The physician also noted W.E.'s bruises were different colors in different locations, which suggested they resulted from non-accidental injuries occurring at multiple times. On January 23, a full autopsy was performed, and W.E.'s cause of death was determined to be "[a]cute peritonitis due to duodenal perforation due to blunt force injuries of the abdomen." Peritonitis is an infection of the lining of the abdomen, which typically results from an abdominal injury. W.E.'s duodenum, a part of the small intestine, had a hole that allowed his bowel contents to enter his abdominal cavity. W.E. had internal bruising that suggested his abdominal injuries resulted from a single impact. Dr. Dennis Firchau, who performed the autopsy at UIHC, determined W.E.'s death was a homicide, opining, "the abdominal injuries that resulted in the peritonitis were highly unlikely to be from an accidental cause and were most likely the result of an inflicted injury."

         Investigators interviewed Tucker multiple times in the days and weeks following W.E.'s death. Police eventually arrested her in Utah in December 2015 and charged her with first-degree murder and child endangerment resulting in death. After waiving her right to a jury trial, the matter was tried to the district court on January 3, ...


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