State v. Carter, 17-1773

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtAHLERS, Judge.
PartiesSTATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. DEVIN MARQUES CARTER, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 17-1773,17-1773
Decision Date14 April 2021

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DEVIN MARQUES CARTER, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 17-1773


April 14, 2021

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert J. Blink, Judge.

Devin Marques Carter challenges his convictions for first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. AFFIRMED.

Karmen Anderson of Anderson & Taylor, P.L.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kyle Hanson, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Mullins and Ahlers, JJ.

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AHLERS, Judge.

What started as an argument in a bar over a pitcher of beer turned into an altercation in the bar's parking lot that ended with a barrage of gunfire that left one person dead and two seriously injured. A jury determined Devin Marques Carter was the shooter, resulting in Carter's convictions for first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, argues the district court erred in denying his motion for a new trial, and raises claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

I. Factual Background

We begin by highlighting key facts that were largely uncontested at trial. These facts are gleaned from testimony as well as surveillance video of events transpiring inside and outside the bar.

On Friday, August 5, 2016,1 members of a family and their significant others decided to go out for a night on the town. They eventually ended up at the same bar on the east side of Des Moines. The group generally consisted of six people: Bill; Bill's son (known as "Bub"); Ashley (Bill's daughter and Bub's sister); Carley (Bub's girlfriend); Bonnie (Bub's second cousin); and Dylan (Bonnie's boyfriend).2 We will refer to this group as "the family group."

During the course of the evening, Dylan, who was too young to purchase alcohol, gave Bill's girlfriend money to buy a pitcher of beer for him. After a short

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period of time passed, Dylan became convinced Bill's girlfriend had pocketed the money without buying the beer. Dylan angrily confronted Bill. Bill was offended by Dylan's accusations and headed outside toward the bar's parking lot. It is not clear whether Bill left the bar to get away from the confrontation or to continue the confrontation outside. Either way, Dylan went with him, and the two proceeded toward the back of the parking lot across the street from the bar. The other four in the family group became aware of the dispute and followed not far behind Bill and Dylan. All six can be seen on surveillance video proceeding to the back of the parking lot.3

Once in the back of the parking lot, there are differing accounts of exactly what happened, but the evidence was generally consistent that Dylan was acting like he wanted to fight Bill, Bill was willing to fight but was warning Dylan not to do so,4 and the others were trying to diffuse the situation. Dylan, feeling outnumbered, headed back toward the bar to look for help.

Dylan saw his cousin, Steven,5 standing outside the bar in the smoking area along with Carter. Dylan asked Steven to go with him to the parking lot because

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he was in an argument and wanted help.6 Steven agreed and began to walk toward the back of the parking lot with Dylan. Although he had not been asked to go, Carter went with the other two. Carter testified that he followed because "I only knew one set of three black guys that was there, and that was my cousin and his friends" and "I just wanted to make sure that ain't who he was talking about."

As the trio reached the back of the parking lot where the five other members of the family group remained, Dylan heard someone say, "You know I've got your back, Pookie." Dylan did not see who made the statement and was not even aware that Carter had come with them, but surveillance video shows the only other person with them was Carter.

It is clear from the video that when the trio of Dylan, Steven, and Carter rounded the corner behind the last row of vehicles in the parking lot, at least some of the family group and some of the trio converged in a rapid manner, suggesting they were running toward each other as part of the confrontation. There is conflicting evidence as to exactly what happened next in terms of who made physical contact with whom, but there was general consensus there was some physical and verbal confrontation between members of the family group and both Dylan and Steven. Very shortly after the altercation began, a single gunshot was fired in the back of the parking lot, followed by a pause, and then a barrage of additional gun shots.

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Twelve spent nine-millimeter shell casings were later found on the ground in the back of the parking lot at the location of the shooting, all determined to have been fired from the same gun. The shooting resulted in Bill dying from a gunshot wound to the head, Carley being critically wounded from a gunshot wound to her leg, and Bub being seriously injured from two gunshot wounds to his back, one to his leg, and one to his foot.

After an investigation, law enforcement and prosecutors concluded Carter had been the shooter. Carter was charged with murder in the first degree, two counts of attempted murder, and intimidation with a dangerous weapon.7 After a jury trial, Carter was found guilty of all four charges and sentenced accordingly. He appeals, raising the issues previously noted.

II. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Carter challenges the sufficiency of the evidence on all counts based on one claim only—the State failed to prove he was the shooter. Claims of insufficient evidence are reviewed for correction of legal error. State v. Schiebout, 944 N.W.2d 666, 670 (Iowa 2020). "We will uphold the verdict on a sufficiency-of-evidence claim if substantial evidence supports it." Id. "Evidence is substantial 'if, when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, it can convince a rational jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Id. (quoting State v. Trane, 934 N.W.2d 447, 455 (Iowa 2019)). All evidence is considered, not just the evidence supporting the verdict. State v. Huser, 894 N.W.2d 472, 490 (Iowa 2017).

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A. The Potential Shooters

Before beginning the discussion of the direct and circumstantial evidence supporting the jury's finding Carter was the shooter, we find it worthwhile to distill some of the facts detailed previously in order to provide the proper framework for analyzing the sufficiency of the evidence against Carter. In particular, it is important to note who was present at the location of the shooting.

The evidence established there were eight people and eight people only in the back of the parking lot where the shooting took place at the time of the shooting. Those eight people were: Bill, Bub, Carley, Ashley, Bonnie, Dylan, Steven, and Carter. This is important because it narrows the list of potential people who could have been the shooter. There is no evidence that would support a conclusion that anyone other than those eight people were in the back of the parking lot when the shots were fired.8 Therefore, the evidence suggests one of those eight had to be the shooter.

The three people who were shot are presumably above suspicion. Further, there is no evidence and no suggestion that Ashley or Bonnie was the shooter. That narrows it down to one of the trio (i.e., Dylan, Steven, or Carter) being the shooter. That list can be further narrowed because there is no evidence suggesting Steven was the shooter. That leaves Dylan and Carter. Of course, the State points at Carter, and Carter points at Dylan. With that distillation of the facts, we now turn to the evidence supporting the jury's finding Carter was the shooter.

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B. Direct Evidence

The sufficiency-of-the-evidence analysis begins with the fact there were eyewitnesses who identified Carter as the shooter. Some of the evidence from these eyewitnesses came directly from their trial testimony, and some of it came from the witnesses' statements to others. We will begin with the evidence that came from trial testimony.

1. Eyewitnesses - Trial Testimony

One eyewitness to the shooting was Steven.9 Steven testified that when he first heard a gunshot, he looked in the direction of the shot and saw Carter with a gun in his hand, "swirling" it in the air. He further testified he did not have a gun and he saw no one other than Carter with a gun.

Efforts to impeach Steven with a prior inconsistent statement revealed Steven had given deposition testimony in April 2017 in which he denied seeing who did the shooting. After these impeachment efforts, Steven was rehabilitated10 by two prior statements he made that were consistent with his trial testimony identifying Carter as the shooter. The first was a detailed statement he gave to police on the day of the shooting in which he clearly identified Carter as the shooter. The second was the testimony he gave in a second deposition in August

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2017, in which he again identified Carter as the shooter. In other words, Steven told his version of events four times, and in three of them, including the one given a few hours after the shooting and during his trial testimony, Steven clearly identified Carter as the shooter. Steven explained that he did not identify Carter as the shooter in his first deposition because that was the first time he had seen Carter since the shooting and he was afraid of Carter.

The parties can, did, and continue to debate the strength of Steven's testimony and how much weight it should be given after consideration of the inconsistent statement from his first deposition. They also can, did, and continue to debate what role Steven's intoxication level played in terms of the weight to be given his testimony.11 These questions were vigorously debated before the jury, as well they should have been. However, on a...

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