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State v. Purnell

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JEHU PURNELL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Des Moines County, Michael J. Schilling, Judge.

         Jehu Purnell appeals from his conviction of willful injury causing serious injury.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, (until withdrawal) and Melinda J. Nye, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas E. Bakke, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Bower, C.J., and Potterfield and Greer, JJ.

          GREER, Judge.

         Jehu Purnell appeals from his conviction of one count of willful injury causing serious injury. He argues that there was insufficient evidence to support findings that he stabbed the victim or that he had the specific intent to cause serious injury. We disagree and affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         On June 17, 2016, Jamiel Culps was stabbed twice during a fight at a barbecue at Tim Ashford's home in Burlington, Iowa. Witnesses identified Purnell as the stabber. In March 2018, Purnell was charged with one count of willful injury causing serious injury in violation of Iowa Code section 708.4(1) (2016). The case proceeded to a jury trial.

         During the trial, the jury heard testimony related to a fight between partygoers. To set the scene, Culps and two other guests at the barbecue-James Korf and Latisha Lewis-testified at trial. According to their testimony, about twenty people were at the barbecue that evening. During the party, Purnell and Ashford argued. Others, including Culps, tried to calm them down. It was at this point that Purnell then began arguing with Culps, and it quickly escalated into a physical fight. Purnell slapped Culps, then Culps hit Purnell twice. Other guests at the barbecue stood around them. Culps, Korf, and Lewis all testified that during the fight an onlooker shouted something equivalent to, "He's stabbing him! He's stabbing him!" As the two men grabbed each other and fell, Culps slammed into a car door and then onto the ground. Purnell landed on top of Culps. After the two men landed on the ground, onlookers pulled the two apart and broke up the fight.

         When they separated, Culps realized he had been stabbed. All the same, Culps, Korf, and Lewis denied seeing a knife or seeing Purnell stab Culps. Likewise, the police did not recover a knife from the scene but did find blood on the car where Culps had fallen into the door.

         After a rushed transport to the hospital, doctors found stab wounds to Culps's kidney and chest. Because of the seriousness of injury, doctors inserted a chest tube to drain the blood. As a result of the stab wounds, Culps was at risk for hemodynamic failure and respiratory failure, both of which can be fatal. Culps spent one day in intensive care, forty-eight hours at the hospital after the stabbing, and two months recovering.

         After the presentation of these facts and at the close of the State's evidence, Purnell's counsel moved for judgment of acquittal arguing that the State failed to prove Purnell had a knife or that he was the individual who stabbed Culps. The court denied the motion. Purnell did not present any evidence in his defense. He renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal "on the basis of the State's failure to prove its case on the elements," which was denied.

         After deliberations, the jury found Purnell guilty as charged. The district court sentenced him to a term of imprisonment not ...


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