State v. Beeman, 65970

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation315 N.W.2d 770
Docket NumberNo. 65970,65970
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. William D. BEEMAN, Appellant.
Decision Date17 February 1982

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315 N.W.2d 770
STATE of Iowa, Appellee,
William D. BEEMAN, Appellant.
No. 65970.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Feb. 17, 1982.

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Douglas E. Johnston and David W. Newell, Muscatine, for appellant.

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Thomas J. Miller, Atty. Gen., Shirley Ann Steffe, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Stephen J. Peterson, County Atty., for appellee.


McGIVERIN, Justice.

On April 26, 1980, the body of Michiel Winkel was found in Wild Cat Den State Park in Muscatine County. She had been kicked in the head and choked before the murderer inflicted a lethal injury by stabbing her seventeen times in the chest. The body was unclothed and the victim had engaged in sexual intercourse sometime shortly before or after her death. Defendant William D. Beeman was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying. §§ 707.1, .2, The Code 1979. He was found guilty as charged by a jury and sentenced. He appeals and we affirm.

The State's evidence showed the following. Defendant took Michiel to the park on the night of April 21, 1980. When she refused to have consensual sexual relations with him, he kicked her in the head. Later, he killed her by stabbing her repeatedly in the chest and concealed the corpse behind a log. Defendant then returned to the home of his girlfriend where he spent the night. Michiel's body was recovered five days later.

Beeman's appeal raises five issues. He contends trial court erred in:

1. Instructing the jury during deliberations that three documents contained in the victim's purse were not to be considered in the case;

2. Admitting testimony and an exhibit of a martial arts weapon belonging to defendant;

3. Giving felony-murder instructions based on the underlying felonies of sexual abuse and willful injury;

4. Overruling defendant's motion for new trial based on alleged suppression by the State of exculpatory evidence; and

5. Failing to suppress defendant's inculpatory statements.

We find no merit in these contentions and therefore affirm defendant's conviction.

I. Instruction after jury deliberations began. The court admitted into evidence, without objection, State's exhibit Z, the purse Michiel Winkel carried with her when last seen on the night of April 21. The contents of the purse were admitted with the purse. During the trial neither party used the contents of the purse to assist in proof of their theories of the case. 1

In its discretion, trial court allowed several exhibits, including the purse, to be taken by the jury into the jury room during deliberations. 2 After one and one-half hours of deliberation the bailiff indicated to the court that the jury had asked whether or not it was to consider three items it had discovered in the purse. The three items were a paper from a collection agency, and a deposit slip and bankbook from the First National Bank in Muscatine. The two items from the bank indicated the victim had made a bank transaction on April 22, the date after the State alleged defendant murdered Winkel. The factual significance of this date was that defendant had a verified alibi for April 22 through 26, but less so

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for April 21. 3 Apparently neither counsel for the State nor the defendant had previously grasped the significance under the submitted record of the bank slip and book about which the jury was concerned. Neither side had relied on these items as a part of its case. The explanation for the dates on the deposit slip and bankbook, proffered in a deposition that was not before the jury, was that the transaction was made at a branch office of the bank at approximately 3:00 p. m. on April 21, and therefore post-dated to April 22, the next banking day.

During an in-chambers hearing to resolve the matter, defendant took the position that the jury should be permitted to consider the banking records because the purse and its contents had been admitted without objection. The State contended that exhibit Z had not been offered to prove the assertions that may have been made by the contents of the purse. The State also moved to reopen the evidence to explain why the deposit slip was dated April 22 instead of April 21. Alternatively, the State moved for a mistrial. The court overruled the State's motions and resolved the dilemma by giving this additional instruction to the jury:

In response to your inquiry about the bankbook entry and deposit slip found by you as part of the contents of the purse, you are instructed that they are not to be considered by you as evidence of any matter contained therein. The contents of these documents are written hearsay and are inadmissible into evidence without proper foundation about them. These papers are no part of the Prosecution or the Defense, and it is a mistake that they have come into your possession without foundational testimony about them. The documents are returned to you herewith, but you are instructed to not consider the contents of these documents to prove or disprove any matter contained therein.

The jury resumed deliberations and reached a verdict of guilty three hours later.

Defendant contends the court erred in giving the above instruction to the jury. 4 We disagree.

In State v. York, 211 N.W.2d 314, 318 (Iowa 1973), we said:

This court has recognized what appears to be the generally accepted rule that "courts have a considerable latitude in excluding offered evidence that is objectionable, even in the absence of any objection or if there is a proper ground which is not stated." This is also true of the court's power to strike evidence it deems erroneously admitted. State v. Shimon, 182 N.W.2d 113, 115 (Iowa 1970).

Although a trial judge does have power, in the exercise of sound discretion, to exclude or withdraw incompetent evidence after its admission, even in the absence of a timely and proper objection by the opponent, it is not ordinarily the duty of the court on its own initiative to exclude such evidence or to interpose an objection to a question. There must first be good reason for the exclusion.

(Citations omitted). See also State v. Thornburg, 220 N.W.2d 579, 584, (Iowa 1974).

We find the court's making of a response to the jury's question was proper. State v. Kittelson, 164 N.W.2d 157, 165-66 (Iowa 1969). We also find that the effect of the instruction, to withdraw the evidence of the banking transaction from the jury,

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was proper under York. 5 The court responded to an objection by the State to the "found" evidence. During the in-chambers hearing on how to resolve the issue, the prosecutor objected that the bankbook and deposit slip were written hearsay. The court agreed and found the evidence to be highly prejudicial to the State. The court did not desire to reopen the evidentiary record in view of defendant's understandable opposition to doing so. Without passing on the merits of the prosecution's objection, we believe the court properly concluded in its discretion that there was good reason for the exclusion under the circumstances. York, 211 N.W.2d at 318. Defendant's first assignment of error is without merit.

II. Admission of martial arts weapon evidence. Defendant contends the court erred in admitting into evidence num chucks owned by defendant. 6 We find no error.

Defendant was questioned on May 7 and 8, 1980, in connection with the slaying of Winkel. During the May 8 questioning at the sheriff's office, John Jutte, an officer with the State Department of Criminal Investigation, and Daryl Werner, of the sheriff's department, began to suspect the defendant's role in the slaying. At this juncture, they read him his Miranda rights. Defendant signed a written waiver of the rights and continued answering the officers' questions. He made a statement, later reduced to writing and signed by defendant, that he had taken the victim to Wild Cat Den State Park, attempted to have sexual intercourse with her, and, when she refused, kicked her in the head with his steel-toed boots. He could not recall stabbing or sexually assaulting Winkel. Defendant was arrested after the officers contacted the county attorney. Officer Werner took possession of the num chucks and a knife, both of which defendant was carrying.

At trial, defendant made an oral motion in limine to prevent the State from introducing the num chucks into evidence, or, in the alternative, to prevent their introduction into evidence without a prior hearing to determine their relevancy. He claimed the prejudicial effect of the num chucks outweighed their probative value.

The court found that the num chucks were not relevant at that point in the trial and prohibited their introduction as an exhibit without a prior determination of relevancy.

Later in the trial, defendant testified in his own behalf. On cross-examination, the State began to delve into his familiarity with martial arts and its weaponry. After defendant's objection was overruled, defendant answered that he possessed the num chucks when interrogated on May 8. Trial court conducted a hearing at this point, finding the question about martial arts weapons "fully" and "totally" relevant.

The prosecutor then demonstrated to the jury how the num chucks could be used to choke a person. Defendant did not object to the demonstration. When the State finally introduced the num chucks into evidence, defendant objected on relevancy grounds.

Admission of evidence at trial is a matter of trial court discretion. State v.

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Miller, 229 N.W.2d 762, 770 (Iowa 1975). "We reverse only when we find he has abused his discretion in balancing the probative force of the evidence against the danger of undue prejudice." State v. Harmon, 238 N.W.2d 139, 145 (Iowa 1976). "The test of relevancy is whether the evidence offered would render the desired inference more probable than it would be without such evidence." State v. Mark, 286 N.W.2d 396, 410 (Iowa 1979). The num chucks rendered more probable the...

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