from the Iowa District Court for Tama County, Ian K.
appeals his conviction and sentence for second-degree murder.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, (until withdrawal) and
Bradley M. Bender, Assistant Appellate Defender, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Linebaugh, Mitch G. Nass (until withdrawal), Daryna
Ternavska, and Monika Sehic of Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, Des
Moines, for amicus curiae Innocence Project of Iowa.
by Bower, C.J., and May and Greer, JJ.
a bench trial, the district court found Tait Purk guilty of
second-degree murder. On appeal, he argues (1) prior-bad-acts
evidence was improperly admitted, (2) his counsel was
ineffective for failing to object to the introduction of
polygraph evidence, and (3) the guilty verdict was not
supported by sufficient evidence or was contrary to the
weight of the evidence. Purk also raises various
ineffective-assistance claims as well as a Confrontation
Clause claim in a pro se brief. We affirm his conviction and
sentence. And we preserve all but one ineffective-assistance
claim for future postconviction proceedings.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
district court could have reasonably found these facts to be
true. In 2000, Purk lived with his fiancé, Cora
Okonski, and her young son. Prior to April 16, 2000, Purk
physically abused Okonski. He even choked her to
April 16, Okonski went to her neighbor, Ricky Jo Sanchez,
stated she and Purk had been fighting. Okonski told Sanchez
that Purk was angry and she was afraid Purk would kill her.
Okonski asked Sanchez to watch her house and alert police if
it appeared Purk was harming her. Then Okonski returned
has not been seen or heard from since April 16,
2000. She has not contacted her parents. She has
neither contacted her son nor made arrangements for his care.
Although she receives monthly social security disability
benefits, Okonski has not picked up a check since April 2000.
suggests Okonski disappeared because Purk killed her. Purk
told a friend, Chadwick Rogers, that "he had to kill his
former girlfriend because she was going to turn him in about
a stolen truck and a burglary." Purk was even more
specific in his confession to Sean Ward, a fellow prisoner
during 2004 and 2005. When talking with Ward, Purk referred
to Okonski by her first name, Cora. Purk told Ward about
"one occasion that they were fighting, and during the
fight he ran across the room and grabbed her by the throat
and slammed her on the floor and killed her." Purk told
Ward he did this because "[s]he threatened to call the
police on him."
December 2016, a grand jury indicted Purk for first-degree
murder. Following a jury trial, Purk was found guilty of
first-degree murder. But the district court granted
Purk's motion for new trial. Purk then waived his right
to a jury trial and requested a bench trial. The district
court found Purk guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced
him accordingly. He now appeals.
Standard of Review
standards of review apply to different issues raised in
Purk's appeal. First, our review of the admission of
prior-bad-acts evidence is for abuse of discretion. State
v. Putnam, 848 N.W.2d 1, 8 (Iowa 2014).
"[a] claim of ineffective assistance of counsel requires
a de novo review because the claim is derived from the Sixth
Amendment of the United States Constitution." Bowman
v. State, 710 N.W.2d 200, 203 (Iowa 2006).
review sufficiency-of-the-evidence claims for correction of
errors at law." State v. Quinn, 691 N.W.2d 403,
407 (Iowa 2005). "We will uphold a finding of guilt if
'substantial evidence' supports the verdict.
'Substantial evidence' is that upon which a rational
trier of fact could find the defendant guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt. . . . [W]e view the evidence in the light
most favorable to the State." State v. Pace,
602 N.W.2d 764, 768 (Iowa 1999) (citations omitted).
"[t]rial courts have wide discretion in deciding motions
for new trial." State v. Ellis, 578 N.W.2d 655,
659 (Iowa 1998).
Admission of Prior-Bad-Acts Evidence
contends the district court abused its discretion in
admitting testimony from Josh York and Tarah Bear regarding
his prior bad acts to establish motive to kill Okonski. York
testified to witnessing Purk choke Okonski into
unconsciousness during a fight. Bear testified Purk once told
her about choking Okonski during a fight until she was
unconscious. York and Bear's testimony was admitted over
Purk's objections. So error was preserved.
"[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not
admissible to prove a person's character in order to
prove a person's character in order to show that on a
particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the
character." Iowa R. Evid. 5.404(b)(1). However, such
evidence "may be admissible for another purpose such as
proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan,
knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of
accident." Iowa R. Evid. 5.404(b)(2).
a three-step analysis to evaluate the admission of evidence
of prior bad acts. First, we must determine if the evidence
is relevant to a legitimate factual issue. State v.
Putman, 848 N.W.2d 1, 9 (Iowa 2014). If the evidence is
relevant, we then consider if there is "clear proof the
individual against whom the evidence is offered committed the
bad act or crime." State v. Sullivan, 679
N.W.2d 19, 25 (Iowa 2004). If these elements are satisfied,
we must consider whether the evidence's "probative
value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
prejudice to the defendant." Id.
appeal rests on the second element of the analysis-the
clear-proof standard. To meet this standard, the bad act does
not need to be established beyond a reasonable doubt, nor
does it need to be corroborated. State v. Taylor,
689 N.W.2d 116, 130 (Iowa 2004). There must simply be proof
that prevents the factfinder from speculating or drawing
inferences based on mere suspicion. State v. Spargo,
364 N.W.2d 203, 209 (Iowa 1985). Testimony from a credible
witness satisfies the requirement. Putman, 848
N.W.2d at 9.
start with York's testimony. Purk claims the district
court did not determine York was credible. Yet the district
court's ruling specifically affirms York's
credibility. The district court found he "credibly
testified" that "[he] witnessed [Purk] choke Ms.
Okonski until she passed out."
so, Purk contends York is discredited by the lack of
specifics in his testimony. Purk highlights York's
inability to specify the exact date the alleged choking
occurred. But that does not automatically disqualify
York's testimony. The question is whether shortcomings in
a witness's testimony require the factfinder to speculate
about the actual occurrence of the event described. See
State v. Moon, No. 00-1128, 2002 WL 663486, at *4 (Iowa
Ct. App. Apr. 24, 2002) ("The evidence establishes how,
when and where . . . and thereby completes the story of the
crime."). In our view, that is not the case with
York's testimony. Although he was unclear about dates, he
was clear about seeing Purk choke Okonski.
also contends testimony from his nephew, Jeremy Purk,
discredits York's testimony. York referenced a certain
truck that Jeremy allegedly drove at the time. But Jeremy
claimed he did not purchase the truck until two years later.
Jeremy also testified he was not with York during the alleged
choking incident and he had never seen Purk attack Okonski.
These are simply conflicting pieces of evidence. The district
court, as the factfinder, was well positioned to
"resolve those conflicts in accordance with its own
views as to the credibility of the witnesses." State
v. Hopkins, 576 N.W.2d 374, 377 (Iowa 1998).
next to Bear's testimony. Although Purk concedes the
district court found Bear credible, he disagrees with that
finding. Bear did not immediately report the incident Purk
described to her. Initially, she thought Purk was joking. It
was not until federal investigators confronted her about
Okonski's disappearance that she took Purk seriously and
relayed what Purk told her. But this delay does not
disqualify the testimony under the clear-proof standard.
Clear proof is meant to be a safeguard against speculation on
the part of the factfinder. Spargo, 364 N.W.2d at
209. Bear's ...