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State v. Whaley

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 5, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
LARRY DONELL WHALEY, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, Chris Foy, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his conviction for second-degree murder.

          Alfredo Parrish and Adam C. Witosky of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann, Des Moines, for appellant.

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

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

          Tabor, Judge.

         A jury found Larry Whaley guilty of murder in the second degree. The verdict followed the State's evidence showing Whaley fired three shots through his closed apartment door-the first shot killed Samantha Teeter. On appeal, Whaley contends the State offered insufficient evidence to prove he acted with malice aforethought and without justification. Whaley also argues his trial counsel was ineffective for not further investigating an insanity defense and his competency to stand trial.

         Viewing the record in the light most favorable to the verdict, we find substantial evidence to sustain the second-degree murder conviction. But because Whaley's claims of ineffective assistance involve questions of trial strategy and the record is inadequately developed to address those questions, we preserve them for possible postconviction-relief proceedings.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In the early morning hours of December 2, 2016, Samantha Teeter and her boyfriend, Kaleb Van Scyoc, knocked on the door of Whaley's apartment. Rather than opening the door or asking who was there, Whaley shot three times. Van Scyoc heard a loud slapping noise, and when he turned to look at Teeter, he saw "this whole side of her face was gone."

         The shooting culminated a chaotic day. On the morning of December 1, Whaley "evicted" Cory and Heather Mays from his apartment with the assistance of Mason City police. Cory was upset about moving out and kept a key to the apartment so he could retrieve their belongings. Whaley believed Cory possessed a gun.

         That same day, Whaley hung out with Debra Ewing. Ewing, who met Whaley three weeks earlier, had a past relationship with Jason Bendickson. She was staying with a friend because she feared Bendickson. When Bendickson tracked down Ewing at the friend's home, Whaley picked her up in his car.

         Later in day, Whaley and Ewing met up with Teeter and Van Scyoc. The foursome drove around in Whaley's car, making several stops. At one stop, Whaley purchased a revolver, telling Ewing it would protect her from Bendickson. Then they stopped at Walmart to buy ammunition and a cellphone for Ewing. Around 9:40 p.m., Whaley rented a room at the Days Inn to conceal Ewing from Bendickson. But soon Ewing said she would rather spend the night at Whaley's apartment, so they left. With Teeter and Van Scyoc, they returned to Whaley's apartment. Whaley urged Ewing to return to the motel "because he didn't want to kill anybody" that night-"his words," Ewing clarified-but Ewing prevailed upon him to stay at the apartment.

         Whaley handed Teeter a key to his apartment. Teeter, Van Scyoc, and Ewing went inside while Whaley went out for groceries. Teeter and Van Scyoc left before Whaley returned. Ewing told Whaley Teeter would be back. Meanwhile, Ewing stretched out on the couch to sleep.[1] Whaley sat by her feet, with the gun on his lap-Ewing assumed he was protecting her.

         It was around 3:40 a.m. when Teeter and Van Scyoc returned to the apartment. Van Scyoc testified he thought Teeter tried to knock. Eventually, Teeter used Whaley's key to unlock the door. Then Van Scyoc knocked and called out, "It's Kid," his nickname. Inside the apartment, Whaley woke Ewing up, saying "somebody's at the door." Whaley then stood up and shot the gun toward the door.

         In an interview with police, Whaley recalled standing about five feet from the door when he fired the first shot. "He said it was a warning shot." Whaley then fired two more shots through the door and told Ewing to call 911. Whaley told police "he was hoping that it was Cory Mays" on the other said of the door. Ewing testified she believed Bendickson was the person trying to enter the apartment. In fact, Teeter was behind the door, and Whaley's first bullet fatally wounded her.

         The State initially accused Whaley of first-degree murder, but amended the charge to second degree. During the prosecution, Whaley filed many letters with the court as a self-represented party. The court originally appointed public defender Susan Flander to represent Whaley, but Flander withdrew due to a conflict of interest. Michael Adams ...

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