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State v. Murphy

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 18, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MATTHEW LEE MURPHY, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jefferson County, Annette J. Scieszinski (venue) and John M. Wright (trial and sentencing), Judges.

         Matthew Murphy appeals from the judgment and sentence entered on his conviction of second-degree sexual abuse.

          Angela L. Campbell of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas E. Bakke, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.


         Matthew Murphy appeals the judgment and sentence entered on his conviction following a jury trial for second-degree sexual abuse, in violation of Iowa Code section 709.3(1)(b) (2016). Murphy asserts the court erred in denying his motions to change venue and to strike jurors. He also asserts his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the court's error related to the motion to strike, in failing to move to strike three other jurors for cause, and in failing to object when a witness violated the motion in limine by vouching for the child victim. Finally, Murphy asserts there was insufficient evidence of sexual abuse. Because Murphy failed to show a substantial likelihood a fair and impartial jury could not be found and because Murphy did not prove prejudice resulting from his use of peremptory strikes, the district court did not abuse its discretion. Also, because the record is inadequate to address Murphy's claims of ineffective assistance, we preserve his claims for postconviction relief. Finally, because the jury verdict was supported by substantial evidence and was not against the weight of the evidence, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The following facts can be gleaned from the evidence presented to the jury. On February 20, 2016, eleven-year-old A.T. and her older sister, M.T., spent the night at Murphy's house. Murphy was a family friend of the girls' parents after being engaged to A.T.'s aunt, her mother's sister. After his fiancé passed away the families remained close. The girls referred to Murphy as "Uncle Matt" and they considered him as part of the family, often scheduling sleepovers even after Murphy became engaged to another woman.

         The families scheduled the February 20 sleepover so A.T. and M.T. could meet Murphy's step-daughter-to-be. On the evening of the sleepover, A.T., M.T., and their mother arrived at Murphy's house at approximately 6:00 p.m. A.T.'s mother stayed for about one hour to visit with Murphy while the girls played outside on Murphy's trampoline. When A.T.'s mother left, the three girls went inside to end the night watching scary movies and T.V. shows before bed.

         During one of the movies, A.T. approached Murphy and sat on his lap because she was cold. While she was seated on his lap, Murphy lifted up the waistband of her pants and touched her "private area," inside her underpants. A.T. acted like she had been asleep then woke up, and Murphy pulled his hand away. A.T. was scared but still acted like she was asleep, and Murphy went upstairs to get the bed ready while the other two girls stayed downstairs to play cards. Murphy returned and carried A.T. upstairs to her bedroom where he laid her down on her stomach. Murphy left the room momentarily. A.T. saw him reenter the room and heard his footsteps. He approached the side of the bed and placed A.T.'s hand on his penis. A.T. still pretended to be asleep with her eyes "barely open." She saw and felt Murphy move her hand around his penis until she, again, acted like she was waking up because she was shocked and scared.

         Once fully awake, A.T. asked to call her mom. A.T. initially told her mother "goodnight" because Murphy was still in the room. A few minutes later A.T. went to the bathroom to wash her hand. Murphy stood in the hallway and said to her, "[Y]ou know I would never let anything happen to you," then picked her up and gave her a hug. A.T. then asked to use the phone again and she called her mother from the locked downstairs bathroom. She told her mother that Murphy "touched her inappropriately" and then told Murphy she was sick and needed her mother to pick her up. Once at home A.T. told her mother what had happened. They then left for the hospital in Ottumwa. After speaking with two police officers at the Ottumwa hospital, they drove to the children's hospital in Des Moines to speak with medical professionals and police and to have a sexual-assault examination performed.

         Murphy was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual abuse, one stemming from this incident and one from a prior allegation involving a different child. On July 29, 2016, Murphy filed a motion to change venue and a motion to sever charges. After a hearing on the motions, the court overruled the motion to change venue but granted the motion to sever charges. The court overruled Murphy's second motion to change venue on March 28, 2017. On April 7, 2017, a jury convicted Murphy of second-degree sexual abuse, related to A.T. Murphy filed a motion for new trial, but the court found the jury's guilty verdict was supported by substantial evidence and not against the weight of the evidence, and it overruled Murphy's motion.

         Murphy now appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review a denial of a motion for a change of venue de novo. State v. Evans, 671 N.W.2d 720, 726 (Iowa 2003). "We will reverse only upon a showing the district court abused its discretion in failing to move the trial." Id. We review the district court's ruling on a challenge for cause for an abuse of discretion. State v. Hardin, 498 N.W.2d 677, 681 (Iowa 1993). Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are reviewed de novo. Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 141 (Iowa 2001). "Sufficiency of evidence claims are reviewed for a correction of errors at law." State v. Sanford, 814 N.W.2d 611, 615 (Iowa 2012). Finally, we review a district court's decision on a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. State v. Nitcher, 720 N.W.2d 547, 559 (Iowa 2006).

         III. Motions to Change Venue

         Murphy contends the court abused its discretion in denying his motions to change venue because both motions claimed a fair and impartial jury could not be secured locally. He asserted his position as the director of the South Iowa Area Crime Commission (SIACC) made him prominent in the community and nearby counties, and news reports covering his arrest used his mugshot, in which community members would recognize him. Further, he asserted local news outlets covered a story that originated in Omaha, which reported that he made improper charges on a SIACC credit card for personal items, and the nature of the small town would increase public scrutiny and prevent him from receiving a fair trial in Jefferson County.

         A court shall grant a change of venue where the defendant meets the burden of proof of showing the evidence demonstrates that "such degree of prejudice exists in the county in which the trial is to be held that there is a substantial likelihood a fair and impartial trial cannot be preserved with a jury selected from that county." Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.11(10)(b); Evans, 671 N.W.2d at 726. In the absence of proof of actual jury prejudice, Murphy must demonstrate that the publicity attending the trial is so pervasive that prejudice must be presumed. Evans, 671 N.W.2d at 726. In order to determine whether publicity is presumptively prejudicial, we consider several factors: "the nature, tone, and accuracy of the articles; their timing in relation to the trial; and the impact of the publicity on the jurors as revealed through voir dire." I ...

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