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State v. Ayers

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ETHEN EDDIE RICHARD AYERS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Lee County, Ty Rogers, District Associate Judge.

         Ethen Ayers appeals his conviction of assault on a correctional officer causing bodily injury. AFFIRMED.

          William R. Monroe of Law Office of William Monroe, Burlington, for appellant.

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

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

          SCOTT, Senior Judge.

         Ethen Ayers appeals his conviction of assault on a correctional officer causing bodily injury. He contends (1) his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to several instances of alleged prosecutorial misconduct and (2) the district court erred in declining to instruct the jury on a justification defense.[1]

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Upon the evidence presented at trial, a reasonable jury could make the following factual findings. On December 8, 2016, Correctional Officer Derek Dill was working in the housing unit in the state penitentiary in which Ayers resides. As a result of a previous lockdown on this date, inmates were restricted from taking showers for a period of time. Sometime after the lockdown ceased, Ayers asked Dill if he could take a shower. Dill told Ayers no, upon which Ayers requested to speak with a correctional sergeant. According to Ayers's subsequent interview with an investigator, Dill responded, "I'm not doing nothing for you, shut the fuck up and lay down." At this point, Ayers began packing up his belongings in his cell, having decided if Dill did not apologize to him he was going to attack Dill. Thereafter, Dill did not apologize to Ayers, and Ayers "felt disrespected to the max." The lack of an apology "sealed the deal" for Ayers, and Ayers decided he was going to attack Dill.

         Later, while inmates were enjoying recreational time, Dill was seated at the correctional officer's desk in the inmate housing unit writing a report. Video footage from the prison shows that while Dill was writing his report, Ayers approached from behind and punched Dill in the side of the face, knocking him to the floor. Ayers then spit on Dill. In his subsequent interview with the penitentiary investigator, Ayers unequivocally admitted to assaulting Dill. Dill suffered a laceration and swelling under his right eye, two black eyes, a chipped tooth, and the dislodging of two cavity fillings. Ayers generally asserted in his trial testimony that he attacked Dill because he felt disrespected and he did not want to be seen as weak by the other inmates. He testified he was forced to take action against Dill.

         Ayers was charged by trial information with assault on a correctional officer causing bodily injury. A jury found him guilty as charged. Ayers appealed following the imposition of sentence. Additional facts may be set forth below as are relevant to the issues raised on appeal.

         II. Analysis

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel-Prosecutorial Misconduct

         Ayers contends his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to several instances of alleged prosecutorial misconduct. We review ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims de novo. State v. Harrison, 914 N.W.2d 178, 188 (Iowa 2018). Ayers "must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that '(1) his trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2) this failure resulted in prejudice.'" State v. Lopez, 907 N.W.2d 112, 116 (Iowa 2018) (quoting State v. Harris, 891 N.W.2d 182, 185 (Iowa 2017)); accord Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). We "may consider either the prejudice prong or breach of duty first, and ...


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