from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, William P.
Ratliff Jr. appeals his convictions of murder in the first
degree, willful injury causing serious injury, and assault
with intent to inflict serious injury.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender (until withdrawal), and
Theresa R. Wilson, Assistant Appellate Defender, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kyle Hanson, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.
convicted Larry Ratliff Jr. of first-degree murder, willful
injury causing serious injury, and assault with intent to
inflict serious injury. On appeal, Ratliff challenges the
sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. He
also asserts his trial counsel provided ineffective
assistance by failing to object to faulty jury instructions.
Ratliff also contends the district court abused its
discretion in admitting cumulative and unduly prejudicial
photographs into evidence.
Background Facts and Proceedings
the evidence presented at trial, a reasonable jury could make
the following factual findings. During the late evening hours
of April 11, 2017, police responded to a call of shots fired
in the 4000 block of Fagen Drive in Des Moines. When officers
arrived, they discovered a vehicle in a parking lot with two
injured individuals, Antonio Quinn and Michael James Jr.
James was shot in the arm but able to walk around and speak
with officers. Quinn was seated in the vehicle's
driver's seat and covered in blood from gunshot wounds to
his chest, arm, and neck. Officers noted three bullet holes
to the vehicle in the driver's side windshield, rear-view
mirror, and A-pillar. Quinn ultimately succumbed to his
injuries. During their investigation, police determined Molly
Peter drove Ratliff to the parking lot where he was to meet
Quinn for a drug transaction. Ratliff took an AK-47 type
semiautomatic rifle with him. The trial testimony differs as
to what occurred after the two vehicles arrived at the
the initial police investigation, Ratliff provided multiple
and inconsistent accounts of his whereabouts on the night of
the shooting, initially claiming no knowledge of the shooting
or the gun, and he was out of town that entire evening. Once
police confronted Ratliff that the gun believed to be the
murder weapon was found hidden in his vehicle and his phone
records did not match his account of his whereabouts, Ratliff
changed his version of events several times. His versions
included claiming the person who actually committed the crime
gave him the gun after the shooting in order to dispose of it
and he only acted as a lookout for the actual shooter. At
trial, Ratliff admitted he had received the gun prior to the
shooting and took it along with him to the parking lot for a
drug transaction where he was to sell cocaine and ecstasy. He
asked Peter to drive him and, after arriving at the parking
lot, he exited the vehicle and went to speak with Quinn, who
sat in the driver's seat of his vehicle. Ratliff and
Quinn discussed the drug transaction, and Ratliff asked Quinn
to pay him in smaller bills. Ratliff then claimed he believed
Quinn was reaching for a weapon so he grabbed his gun and
pointed it at Quinn. Quinn then grabbed for the gun and
wrestled with him for it, which Ratliff claimed caused the
gun to accidentally fire. He then left the scene. After his
arrest, Ratliff attempted to send a note to Peter asking for
witnesses to prove another person committed the shooting and
a letter telling her "don't let them bully you into
saying nothing. Remember the best comment is no
version was that he and Quinn went to the parking lot in
order for Quinn to sell ecstasy that James had obtained for
him. He saw Ratliff exit the passenger side of the vehicle
that pulled up alongside Quinn's vehicle and walk over to
the driver-side window, where Quinn was located. James
recognized and was familiar with Ratliff but Quinn was not.
After a discussion about the money and the drugs, Ratliff did
ask for change, after which Ratliff claimed he needed to get
something from the other vehicle. James saw Ratliff reach
into the passenger- side window and turn back with a rifle.
Ratliff pointed the gun at Quinn and stated "Let me get
all of that." Quinn then grabbed the gun barrel and
tried to wrestle it away from Ratliff. At that point, James
reached for the door handle on his side of the vehicle and
heard a shot. After looking back, he saw Quinn lying in his
seat, holding his body and gasping for air. Quinn told James
he could not move. James then saw Ratliff at the front of the
vehicle where he shot again. At that point, James exited the
vehicle and ran away. When he turned around, he saw Ratliff
get in the other vehicle and leave the scene. James
ultimately admitted to police that he knew who Ratliff was
and knew there was going to be a drug transaction.
State charged Ratliff and Peter in a joint trial information
with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and attempt
to commit murder. A jury trial was held in December 2017,
during which Ratliff testified on his own behalf. The jury
returned verdicts finding Ratliff guilty of first-degree
murder and two lesser-included charges: willful injury
causing serious injury to Quinn and assault with intent to
inflict serious injury to James. The court subsequently
sentenced Ratliff to life in prison on the murder charge. As
noted, Ratliff appeals.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
contends the jury verdicts were not supported by sufficient
evidence. We review sufficiency-of-evidence challenges for
correction of errors at law. State v. Ramirez, 895
N.W.2d 884, 890 (Iowa 2017). "[W]e will uphold a verdict
if substantial evidence supports it." Id.
"Evidence is considered substantial if, when viewed in
the light most favorable to the State, it can convince a
rational jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt." Id. (quoting State v.
Reed, 875 N.W.2d 693, 704-05 (Iowa 2016)). "The
evidence must do more than raise 'suspicion, speculation,
or conjecture' regarding defendant's guilt."
State v. Randle, 555 N.W.2d 666, 671 (Iowa 1996)
(quoting State v. Barnes, 204 N.W.2d 827, 829 (Iowa
1972)). "We consider all the record evidence, not just
the evidence that supports the verdict." State v.
Biddle, 652 N.W.2d 191, 197-98 (Iowa 2002).
focuses his challenges on the intent element of each offense,
arguing the State failed to establish the requisite intent.
First-Degree Murder-Malice Aforethought
convict Ratliff of first-degree murder, the instructions
required the jury to find: (1) Ratliff shot Quinn; (2) Quinn
died as a result of being shot; (3) Ratliff acted with malice
aforethought; and (4) Ratliff "acted willfully,
deliberately, premeditatedly and with a specific intent to
kill [Quinn]." Ratliff argues the evidence is
insufficient to prove he acted with the requisite malice
aforethought and specific intent.
initial matter, the State argues Ratliff did not preserve
error on his claim of insufficient evidence on this element.
Ratliff urges us to consider the challenge as a claim of
ineffective assistance of counsel in the alternative.
orally moved for judgment of acquittal after the State
completed its case-in-chief, arguing:
Specifically our client is charged with three different
counts: First-degree murder, attempted murder, and robbery in
the first degree. And the State's evidence has failed to
establish the requisite intent that is needed for each of
those crimes. Each of those crimes has a ...