State v. Crooks, No. 16-0851

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtWATERMAN, Justice.
Citation911 N.W.2d 153
Decision Date20 April 2018
Docket NumberNo. 16-0851
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Noah Riley CROOKS, Appellant.

911 N.W.2d 153

STATE of Iowa, Appellee,
v.
Noah Riley CROOKS, Appellant.

No. 16-0851

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Filed April 20, 2018


Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers and Denise A. Timmins, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.

WATERMAN, Justice.

In this appeal, we must decide challenges to Iowa’s youthful offender laws raised by a defendant who at age thirteen fatally shot his mother. The State prosecuted him as a youthful offender in district court, and a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. When he reached age eighteen, the district court sentenced him to an indeterminate prison term of up to fifty years (with no mandatory minimum). The defendant raises statutory and constitutional challenges to his prosecution and sentence, arguing that as a thirteen-year-old offender, his case should have remained in juvenile court and that at age eighteen he should have been released on probation or placed in a transitional facility rather than prison.

We retained his appeal and, for the reasons explained below, affirm his conviction as a youthful offender and his fifty-year indeterminate sentence with immediate parole eligibility. We conclude the district court properly exercised its discretion based on an individualized assessment of this defendant under a constitutional statutory scheme. We acknowledge sentencing reform efforts nationwide to raise the minimum age for prosecution in adult court. But under our constitutional separation of powers, those efforts should be directed to the legislature.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On the evening of March 24, 2012, Noah Crooks was at home with his mother, Gretchen Crooks. Noah was thirteen years old and an eighth grader at Osage Middle School. He had no prior criminal record. The Crooks lived in rural Osage, in Mitchell County. Gretchen worked as a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Mason City and was studying to get her master’s degree at the University of Iowa. Noah’s father, William Crooks, worked at Cargill Kitchen Solutions in Mason City. William and Gretchen had been married for seventeen years.

William was at a work-related party away from home that evening when Noah loaded a .22 caliber rifle upstairs. Noah took the loaded rifle downstairs and saw his mother in the kitchen facing away from him. She was making dinner for him. Noah later told a child psychiatrist that he could

911 N.W.2d 157

not shoot her at that moment because it would not be honorable to shoot his mother in the back. Noah returned upstairs until his mother called up to say his dinner was ready. He returned downstairs with the rifle and this time found his mother sitting on the living room sofa studying her coursework. Noah shot her twenty-two times, killing her.

Noah sent his dad a text message at 7:30 p.m. The message stated, "Dad, this is Noah. I killed Mom accidentally. I regret it. Come home now please." William thought Noah was joking and replied, "Okay. Just throw her in the grove. We will take care of her later."

Noah called 911 and told the Mitchell County dispatcher, Barbara Michael, "I killed my mom with my twenty-two." He admitted he "shot her ... with twenty rounds maybe." Noah also said, "I, I tried to rape her.... I didn’t do it. I tried to rape her, I couldn’t do it." Noah talked to the dispatcher about his concerns over his own future, stating,

I’m never gonna be able to marry.... I’m never gonna get, be able to get a good job now, ‘cause it’ll be on my resume.... I mean, I’ll barely be able to get a job like McDonald’s. I mean I had plans of going to Michigan State University to get an engineering job, making my own car company. That’s all down the drain now.

Deputy Jeff Huftalin was dispatched to the Crooks’s residence and knocked on the front door. Noah answered the door while he was still on the phone with the dispatcher. Deputy Huftalin asked Noah where his mother was. Noah told him she was in the living room and that the gun was on a chair. Deputy Huftalin asked Noah to sit on the porch while he entered the house. Deputy Huftalin found Gretchen slouched on the couch; he could see bullet holes in her chest. Gretchen’s pajama top was unbuttoned, and she was naked from the waist down. Deputy Huftalin confirmed that Gretchen was dead. He handcuffed Noah and put him in the backseat of the patrol car.

Deputy Huftalin called William to tell him there had been an accident in his house and that he needed to come home. Upon arrival, William was told that Gretchen was dead and that Noah had shot her.

The State filed a delinquency petition four days later, alleging that Crooks, age thirteen, committed the delinquent acts of first-degree murder and assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse. The State requested that the juvenile court waive jurisdiction so that Crooks could be tried as a youthful offender in adult court, as provided in Iowa Code section 232.45(7) (2011). Crooks filed a motion to dismiss, challenging the juvenile court’s statutory authority to waive jurisdiction over a thirteen-year-old. The juvenile court denied the motion. Crooks then filed a second motion to dismiss, this time asserting the youthful offender statute was unconstitutional. The juvenile court denied this motion, finding Crooks failed to establish that the statute was unconstitutional.

At the waiver-of-jurisdiction hearing, the juvenile court made the three findings required by Iowa Code section 232.45(7)(a ) for transfer to district court: (1) Crooks was fifteen years of age or younger, (2) there was probable cause that Crooks committed the forcible felonies alleged in the petition, and (3) the State had established that there were no reasonable prospects for rehabilitating Crooks prior to his eighteenth birthday if the juvenile court retained jurisdiction. The juvenile court waived jurisdiction over Crooks and transferred the case to the district court for Noah’s prosecution as a youthful offender.

911 N.W.2d 158

The State filed a trial information in district court, alleging murder in the first degree and assault with intent to commit sexual abuse. The jury trial began on April 30, 2013. Crooks raised the defenses of insanity and diminished responsibility. On May 13, the jury returned a verdict finding him guilty of murder in the second degree and not guilty of assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse. The court placed him on youthful offender status and transferred his supervision to the juvenile court for disposition under Iowa Code section 232.52.

After conducting a dispositional hearing, the juvenile court transferred guardianship of Crooks to the director of the Department of Human Services for placement at the State Training School in Eldora. Crooks was under the supervision of the juvenile court until his eighteenth birthday. The juvenile court conducted yearly review hearings, and Crooks remained at the State Training School. He attended school and participated in mental health treatment. He graduated from high school on May 29, 2015.

In April 2016, the juvenile court officer (JCO) filed a youthful offender report, and the juvenile court reported to the district court as required by Iowa Code section 232.56. The report noted that throughout his time at Eldora, Crooks tried to avoid addressing why he killed his mother. The JCO mentioned that when Crooks’s father confronted him about his matricide, he responded that "[he] thought we would be better off without her." The JCO report elaborated,

During a recent family meeting on April 14, 2016 with his father and counselors, Noah was asked again about why he killed his mother. He responded by saying, "I didn’t think of the consequences. I didn’t think anything would happen. I thought I would maybe get grounded." This question has been asked of Noah throughout his therapy time at the State Training School. Any answer Noah could give would not be an acceptable answer to his father and family members.

The district court ordered a presentence investigation (PSI). The PSI report recommended incarceration:

The defendant was 13 years of age when he shot and killed his mother. He will turn 18 on 07/29/16. Prior to his arrest on the instant offense he had no criminal history. He was involved in counseling with his family and was placed on psychotropic medication for a couple of years. There are reports he made comments to his peers at school about killing his mother and it would appear he bullied other children from time to time. It is also noted he was cruel to animals and may have burned down his grandmother’s home when he was 5–6 years of age. These types of behaviors are disturbing for a child of his age. He admitted he was "arrogant and stuck up" and didn’t really think anything bad was going to happen to him when he killed his mother.

The defendant professes that he came from a good home and loved his family, yet he shot and killed his mother in their own home. He stated he was not angry at her and reported he was close to his mother. His behavior at the State Training School has been pretty unremarkable with a few minor violations. According to the defendant, he has had no major behavioral issues at the training school because he knows the rules and
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24 practice notes
  • State v. Wright, No. 19-0180
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...(Iowa 2018) (Mansfield, J., dissenting) (beginning constitutional analysis with the text and original understanding); State v. Crooks, 911 N.W.2d 153, 167 (Iowa 2018) ("In exercising our independent judgment, we are 'guided by "the standards elaborated by controlling precedents and by [our]......
  • State v. Davison, 20-0950
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 15, 2022
    ...Izzolena , 609 N.W.2d 541, 545 (Iowa 2000) (en banc). We review the district court's sentence for abuse of discretion. State v. Crooks , 911 N.W.2d 153, 161 (Iowa 2018).III. Legal Analysis.A. Does Iowa Code Section 910.3B(1) Apply Only to Defendants Convicted of a Crime in Which an Element ......
  • State v. Wright, 19-0180
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...(Iowa 2018) (Mansfield, J., dissenting) (beginning constitutional analysis with the text and original understanding); State v. Crooks , 911 N.W.2d 153, 167 (Iowa 2018) ("In exercising our independent judgment, we are ‘guided by "the standards elaborated by controlling precedents and by [our......
  • State v. Davison, 20-0950
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 15, 2022
    ...v. Izzolena, 609 N.W.2d 541, 545 (Iowa 2000) (en banc). We review the district court's sentence for abuse of discretion. State v. Crooks, 911 N.W.2d 153, 161 (Iowa 2018). III. Legal Analysis. A. Does Iowa Code Section 910.3B(1) Apply Only to Defendants Convicted of a Crime in Which an Eleme......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
24 cases
  • State v. Wright, No. 19-0180
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...(Iowa 2018) (Mansfield, J., dissenting) (beginning constitutional analysis with the text and original understanding); State v. Crooks, 911 N.W.2d 153, 167 (Iowa 2018) ("In exercising our independent judgment, we are 'guided by "the standards elaborated by controlling precedents and by [our]......
  • State v. Davison, 20-0950
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 15, 2022
    ...Izzolena , 609 N.W.2d 541, 545 (Iowa 2000) (en banc). We review the district court's sentence for abuse of discretion. State v. Crooks , 911 N.W.2d 153, 161 (Iowa 2018).III. Legal Analysis.A. Does Iowa Code Section 910.3B(1) Apply Only to Defendants Convicted of a Crime in Which an Element ......
  • State v. Wright, 19-0180
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...(Iowa 2018) (Mansfield, J., dissenting) (beginning constitutional analysis with the text and original understanding); State v. Crooks , 911 N.W.2d 153, 167 (Iowa 2018) ("In exercising our independent judgment, we are ‘guided by "the standards elaborated by controlling precedents and by [our......
  • State v. Davison, 20-0950
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 15, 2022
    ...v. Izzolena, 609 N.W.2d 541, 545 (Iowa 2000) (en banc). We review the district court's sentence for abuse of discretion. State v. Crooks, 911 N.W.2d 153, 161 (Iowa 2018). III. Legal Analysis. A. Does Iowa Code Section 910.3B(1) Apply Only to Defendants Convicted of a Crime in Which an Eleme......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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