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Wheeldon v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 19, 2018

JEFFERY WHEELDON, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Duane E. Hoffmeyer, Judge.

         The applicant appeals the denial of his application for postconviction relief.

          Marti D. Nerenstone, Council Bluffs, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, Presiding Judge.

         Jeffery Wheeldon appeals from the denial of his application for postconviction relief (PCR).

         In June 2002, Wheeldon was charged with murder in the first degree, attempted murder, and willful injury. He later filed a notice of defense, stating he intended to rely on the defense of insanity and listing the doctor he intended to call in support of that defense.

         On October 31, a hearing was held on the issue of Wheeldon's competency. The parties submitted written records, including reports of evaluations from three mental-health experts. One of the experts, Dr. Bruce Gutnik, who evaluated Wheeldon on August 23 and August 29, diagnosed Wheeldon with Schizoaffective Disorder and opined that Wheeldon was not competent to stand trial. The doctor based this, in part, on Wheeldon's symptoms of psychosis and auditory hallucinations. The other two experts, Dr. Y Scott Moore-who evaluated Wheeldon on October 25-and Dr. Mario J. Scalora-who evaluated Wheeldon on September 6 and October 25-opined that Wheeldon was competent to stand trial. Dr. Scalora stated:

While Mr. Wheeldon's mental condition would place him at a higher risk for decompensation when under stress, Mr. Wheeldon's improved mental status with recent changes in medication as well as his self-report suggests that he presents with the requisite skills to manage potential stressors if he remains medication compliant. . . . His mental functioning has improved significantly during the course of this evaluation.

         Before the district court issued a ruling on Wheeldon's competency, Wheeldon accepted a plea agreement and entered guilty pleas to murder in the second degree and attempted murder.

         After a colloquy with Wheeldon, including discussion of his mental-health history and the fact that one doctor did not believe he was competent to stand trial, the court accepted Wheeldon's guilty pleas. The same day, the court sentenced Wheeldon to a fifty-year term of incarceration and a twenty-five-year term; the court ordered Wheeldon to serve the two sentences consecutively. Wheeldon did not file a direct appeal.

         Then, in December 2011, Wheeldon filed his first application for PCR, in which he argued he was incompetent at the time of the plea and sentencing hearing. The State resisted Wheeldon's application, arguing it was time-barred due to the statute of limitations. See Iowa Code § 822.3 (2011) ("All other applications must be filed within three years from the date the conviction or decision is final . . . ."). The PCR court granted the State's motion for summary disposition, and Wheeldon appealed. A panel of our court recognized, "If Wheeldon were incompetent at the time of his plea and sentencing, and for a period of years thereafter, he would not have been aware of his incompetency until after the statute had limitations had passed." Wheeldon v. State, No. 12-0598, 2013 WL 2107300, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. May 15, 2013). The court determined Wheeldon had provided sufficient evidence that "a question of material fact exists as to whether [he] was incompetent and could not have been alerted to the question in a timely manner." Id. The court reversed the PCR court's summary disposition of the application and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the application. Id.

         The evidentiary hearing took place in August 2017. In the PCR court's written ruling, it found that Wheeldon had not proved he was incompetent at the time of his plea, sentencing, or during the subsequent three-year period for filing his PCR application. In other words, the court found Wheeldon had failed to establish the application could not have been filed within three years of the date of ...


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