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State v. Holt

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 9, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
PATRICK LAVERN HOLT, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, James M. Drew, Judge.

         Patrick Holt appeals his conviction and sentence for lascivious acts with a child.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, (until withdrawal) and Robert P. Ranschau, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Richard J. Bennett, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Greer, JJ.

          GREER, JUDGE.

         Patrick Holt appeals his conviction and sentence for lascivious acts with a child. He raises four arguments on appeal: (1) the court erred in overruling his motion for new trial; (2) his counsel was ineffective for failing to object to an expert witness' improper vouching testimony; (3) the court erred by instructing the jury on general and specific intent; and (4) the court abused its discretion in issuing his sentence. On our review, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         In 2018, Patrick Holt was charged with one count of lascivious acts with a child in violation of Iowa Code section 709.8(1), (2)(a) (2013). The case proceeded to a jury trial.

         At trial, the evidence established that almost every day during the summer of 2014, eleven-year-old L.K. and her mother, A.K., spent time at Holt's house in Mason City, Iowa.[1] Holt often bought L.K. clothing and toys, and he took L.K. and her mother on trips to the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend and an Iowa Cubs baseball game in Des Moines.

         During one of the summer visits, A.K. left L.K. at Holt's house and went to a gas station nearby. According to L.K., while her mother was gone, L.K. and Holt were in an upstairs bedroom called the "girl's room, "[2] sitting in front of a desk with a computer. Holt pulled up a pornographic video on the computer, began rubbing his penis, and then touched L.K.'s vagina on top of and under her clothing. This continued for about a minute until L.K. heard her mother return to the house and she ran downstairs to meet her. L.K. testified that she was glad and relieved when her mother returned to the house. They left soon after, but L.K. remembers having to go back with her mother to Holt's house on other occasions later that summer. Holt denies all of these allegations.

         As further support for L.K.'s version, A.K. testified that when she returned, L.K. met her at the door, hysterical, sobbing, and upset. L.K. immediately told her that Holt had tried to make her touch him and that he had touched her. A.K. testified that they left right away and never spoke to Holt again.

         Trial testimony of A.K. and L.K. highlighted other troubling interactions with Holt. For example, he once bought L.K. a two-piece swimsuit and wanted her to try it on and show him. L.K. felt uncomfortable and refused. On another occasion, L.K. testified that Holt once gave her a gift bag and asked her to sit on his lap while she opened it. A.K. once saw Holt brush his arm briefly across L.K.'s chest and, more than once, he patted L.K. on the bottom when he gave her hugs. More troubling, A.K. also testified that she had seen pornographic pictures and videos on the computer in the girl's room and had seen pornographic magazines around the house.

         For expert testimony, the State called Miranda Kracke, a forensic interviewer with the Allen Child Protection Center. Kracke had interviewed L.K. as part of the investigation for this case. Before trial, Holt moved to limit Kracke's testimony to avoid improper vouching for L.K.'s credibility. The court ruled that Kracke could testify generally but could not testify about L.K.'s case specifically. The court cautioned Holt's counsel to object if she believed Kracke's testimony was crossing the line into improper vouching.

         Limiting her testimony, Kracke did testify that it is common for children who have experienced sexual abuse not to report the abuse right away and not to disclose all of the abuse at once. She discussed reasons children wait to report, including having parents who are not supportive.

         Kracke also testified about "grooming," which she described as "a desensitization process, . . . a process of gaining trust to eventually gain access, in this case-in the case of grooming as we're talking about it, for sexual access to a child." She also described common grooming tactics:

So sometimes in cases where then an investigative team is concerned that grooming may have occurred, children have talked to me about either being shown pornography as a way to normalize sex or talking about sex, just to make it seem like it's something that's okay to discuss. Sometimes children have talked to me about receiving gifts or candy, stuffed animals, toys, different things like that, just as part of being made to feel special or being singled out in some way. Sometimes in cases I've had where there, like, are multiple siblings, that child felt special or different compared to their brothers or sisters, just different ways that they are then feeling special. Sometimes it also involves physical contact so lots of kids talk with me about wrestling or back rubs that then eventually lead to more overt sexual activity.

         To attack L.K.'s credibility, Holt called L.K.'s school guidance counselor, who met weekly with L.K. in fifth and sixth grade around the time of the alleged assault. L.K. revealed to the counselor that an unnamed man in the neighborhood had made her feel uncomfortable. The counselor asked L.K. if this man did anything to her, and she said no but "she felt creeped out by the way he looked at her."

         Another defense witness, Marcella Joyce, testified that around the time of the alleged assault, she and her daughter sometimes stayed at Holt's house. Joyce stayed in the boy's room and her daughter stayed in the girl's room. Responding to the existence of pornography on the computer, Joyce testified that the computer in the girl's room ...

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