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State v. Freese

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 21, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
SEAN MICHAEL FREESE, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, John D. Telleen, Judge.

         Sean Freese appeals two convictions of first-degree murder and the sentences imposed.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Robert P. Ranschau, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Darrel Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, Judge.

         Sean Freese appeals two convictions of first-degree murder stemming from the deaths of his parents, Kevin and Donna Freese, and the sentences imposed. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions and contends the district court erred in ordering him to pay a law-enforcement-initiative surcharge on each of the counts.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Upon the evidence presented at trial, a reasonable jury could make the following factual findings. In October 2016, Sean was living with his parents in Davenport. On October 4, Sean and his girlfriend, Ellyott, hung out at the Freese residence. Kevin and Donna were present in the home at this time. Ellyott testified the atmosphere in the home was generally positive on this date, but there were underlying issues concerning Sean's schooling and his parents' desire that he move out. At approximately 11:22 p.m., Sean and Ellyott left the residence and got into Sean's vehicle, which was parked in the street in front of the Freese residence, [1] for the purpose of transporting Ellyott home. They departed shortly thereafter. After stopping at a fast food restaurant, Sean dropped Ellyott off at home around midnight.

         At 11:57 p.m., Donna text messaged Sean and told him "to get home." At 12:03 a.m. on October 5, Donna texted, "Doors r locked." The surveillance footage shows Sean returned home seconds before 12:07 a.m. Less than a minute later, Sean texted Donna, "Im here." Donna responded, "You're late." Sean responded, "Yea I know. I have school work to do. Unlock the door plz." Donna responded, "U r getting up in the morning and doing good school work." Over the next several minutes, Donna and Sean argued via text message about Sean's schedule, Donna taking issue with Sean "staying . . . up all night and sleeping 'til noon," and Sean retorting that getting up early makes him upset and "not wanting to do anything." Donna advised Sean, "If u want to live here u r going to keep normal hours. I'm tired of being sleep deprived so u can do what u want when u want" and "U need to learn to do what's asked of u not just what u want to do."

         The surveillance camera footage shows that at roughly 3:40 a.m., Sean[2]approached his vehicle from the direction of the home, opened the back hatch of the vehicle, removed a long dark object from the vehicle, and proceeded back to the house with it. Sean's best friend testified at trial that Sean often kept his AR-15-type rifle secured in a case in his vehicle.

         At approximately 3:55 a.m., one of the Freeses' neighbors was awoken by what she thought were gunshots coming from the direction of the Freese residence, which is located directly behind her home. At this time, Sean's vehicle was still parked in front of the Freese residence. The neighbor looked out her bedroom window which faces the back of the Freese residence and noticed most of the lights in the Freese home were illuminated. The neighbor monitored th Freese residence for several minutes and observed someone calmly moving about the house.

         The surveillance footage shows that at roughly 4:07 a.m., Sean returned to his vehicle, placed something in its rear, and then got in the vehicle and drove away. Sean returned to the Freese home about a minute later and parked in the driveway; he departed from the residence in his vehicle again at 4:13 a.m. Sean returned to the home at 4:16 a.m., parked his vehicle in front of the home, exited the vehicle and proceeded in the direction of the Freese residence. At 4:18 a.m., Sean returned to the vehicle and drove away. At 4:26 a.m., Sean, alone and in his vehicle, visited a nearby fast food restaurant's drive through. Sean returned to the Freese residence at 4:41 a.m. At this time, Sean began to approach the home, but then returned to the vehicle, opened the back hatch, removed a long item, and proceeded to the residence with it.

         At approximately 4:46 a.m., Sean called 911. He reported he recently left his house to go for a drive and stop by a fast food restaurant, pursuant to which he was gone from his home for about an hour and a half. When he returned home, he found his gun lying on the floor, noticed the back door partially open, and then went upstairs and found both of his parents shot and not breathing. Sean noted he was not concerned that an assailant was in the home.

         Officers were promptly dispatched to the residence. Upon arrival at 4:53 a.m., officers discovered Sean sitting on the front steps of the home, crying. Sean advised the first officer on scene that his parents were located in an upstairs bedroom. Officers entered the home, and observed an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle lying on the floor near the stairs leading to the second level of the home. The firearm belonged to Sean. Located near the rifle was a black rifle case, laying open, which contained an empty rifle magazine. Officers proceeded to the master bedroom and discovered Donna lying on the bed and Kevin lying face down on the floor, both having sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Subsequent autopsies identified Kevin and Donna's cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds and revealed Kevin sustained three or four[3] gunshot wounds and Donna sustained five. The bedroom was riddled with shell casings. Sean was transported to the local police station for questioning and was interviewed by a detective later that morning. At the conclusion of the interview, the detective advised Sean to consider himself under arrest.

         At 7:19 p.m., Sean called a close friend from jail. During this call, Sean advised, "We got in a huge argument and I snapped, that was it." Sean explained the argument was "about them and their rules and everything they're putting me through," noting "they were treating [him] poorly last night," and he "just couldn't take it." Sean also explained to his friend that he was originally going to take his own life, but then decided to go get his gun, shoot his parents, and then shoot himself, but only "half of that worked out." Sean called his friend again on October 6 at 8:42 a.m. During this call, Sean repeated that he "just snapped."

         The State charged Sean with two counts of first-degree murder. The matter proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of the State's case-in-chief, Sean moved for judgment of acquittal as to both counts, arguing the evidence was insufficient to show he acted with malice aforethought, deliberately, premeditatedly, or with the specific intent to kill. The court denied ...

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