State v. Huntley, 21-1244

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtBOWER, CHIEF JUDGE.
PartiesSTATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. BRENTON MITCHEL HUNTLEY, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Number21-1244
Decision Date07 December 2022

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,


No. 21-1244

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 7, 2022

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Emmet County, Don E. Courtney (trial) and John M. Sandy (motion), Judges.

Brenton Huntley appeals his convictions. AFFIRMED.

Martha J. Lucey, State Appellate Defender, and Rachel C. Regenold, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

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

Considered by Bower, C.J., Tabor, J., and Mullins, S.J. [*]



Brenton Huntley appeals his convictions for domestic abuse assault by strangulation causing bodily injury, willful injury causing bodily injury, assault with intent to commit sexual abuse causing bodily injury, and first-degree harassment.[1]Huntley asserts prosecutorial error during closing arguments denied him a fair trial and there is insufficient evidence to support his convictions. Huntley did not establish prejudice from the alleged misconduct, and sufficient evidence supports the jury's verdicts. We affirm.

I. Background Facts &Proceedings.

A trial was held in May 2021. The jury found Huntley guilty of domestic abuse assault by strangulation causing bodily injury, willful injury causing bodily injury, assault with intent to commit sexual abuse causing bodily injury, and first-degree harassment. A reasonable fact finder could determine the following:

In the spring of 2020, Huntley was in a sexual relationship and living with J.F. in Emmet County.[2] In early June, the couple broke up, and Huntley moved to his grandparents' home in rural Emmet County south of Estherville.

On June 9, J.F. invited Huntley to go out for the evening. Huntley ate dinner with his grandparents, taking several medications for sleeping and pain. J.F. picked up Huntley around 6:30 p.m. in her four-door sedan.

They went to a casino in Emmetsburg, then drove back towards Emmet County. During the drive back, J.F. had to pull off the road due to a rainstorm, and


they had consensual sex. J.F. and Huntley stopped in Estherville and Dolliver during their drive, eventually going to a bar in Arnolds Park.

At the bar, Huntley had several drinks, and J.F. had one. After a while, J.F. let Huntley know she was ready to leave and went out to her car to smoke a cigarette. Huntley came out with two other men, asking J.F. to give them a ride home because the bar was closing soon.[3] When they arrived at the men's home, Huntley wanted to stay, J.F. consented, and Huntley played drinking games with the men. After some time, J.F. wanted to leave and went outside to smoke. Eventually, the other men wanted to sleep and got Huntley to leave.[4]

During the ride back to his grandparents' house, Huntley was unhappy because he didn't want to leave Arnolds Park. As J.F. drove through Dickinson County, Huntley "was calling [her] a whore" and accused her of cheating on him with one of the men they had met earlier. J.F. said then "[h]e wrapped his hands around my neck" as she was driving. J.F. missed a turn, and as she was turning around, Huntley got out of the car, "jumped on top of the hood of my car, [and] was banging on my window screaming at me." Eventually Huntley got back in the car, and J.F. started back toward Emmet County.


J.F. stated as they neared Estherville, Huntley "was hitting on me and wrapping his hands around my neck and pulled my hair." He also tried to jump out of the car again while it was moving. J.F. parked along the side of the road, and Huntley started running up to other vehicles on the highway and yelling. J.F. convinced him to get back in the car. After he got back in and as she drove towards his grandparents' home, he started hitting her again. When he realized she was taking him to his grandparents' house instead of her home, he tried to stop the car and began taking off his clothes.[5] He threw his shirt out the window on his grandparents' street and took off his pants and shoes.

J.F. stopped in Huntley's grandparents' driveway-she guessed around 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning. Once there, "[Huntley] tried to rip my clothes off of me and told me I was going to give him a son." Huntley shoved J.F.'s head into his lap, and she cried, telling him to stop and he was hurting her. Huntley bit her on her arm as she tried to push him away. Huntley then grabbed her by the hair and tried to pull her out through the passenger-side door. J.F. got pinned between the front seats on the center console, with Huntley "over top of me with his hands wrapped around my neck" and "told me he was going to kill me," even threatening


to do so in front of J.F.'s children. J.F. believed she was going to die. She placed her knee on the horn and started honking it, hoping help would arrive. Huntley responded by hitting her and trying to pull her knee from the steering wheel. Huntley got out of the car, and J.F. threw his keys out the door and drove away.

J.F. drove to a gas station where a friend was working, calling her on the way saying Huntley had attacked her and her head and chest hurt. J.F.'s friend described her demeanor when she arrived as "very timid, very shaky . . . shaking almost from head to toe." After her friend saw the visible marks on J.F.'s face, she called the police. J.F. began to feel pain from what had happened, including difficulty swallowing and hoarseness.

J.F. went with Deputy Schultes to the sheriff's office to report the assaults, with the interview happening around 4:00 a.m. The deputy took pictures of red marks and swollen areas on the right side of J.F.'s face. The deputy testified J.F.'s injuries were consistent with her account. J.F. went home.

Meanwhile, Huntley's grandmother testified sometime after midnight she "heard somebody hollering and pounding on the house, but no lights or anything pulled in." It was Huntley at the door in his socks and underwear, and she thought he was drunk.[6] They talked about what had happened for thirty to forty-five minutes, and Huntley passed out. Around 4:30 a.m., two deputies drove out to speak with Huntley at his grandparents' house. During his drive, Deputy Schultes saw a shirt lying on the south side of the road, consistent with being thrown out a


passenger window. Huntley's grandmother was awake and throwing something into their dumpster. Huntley was inside in the living room, hunched over on the floor and unresponsive, dressed only in his underwear. Deputy Schultes did not notice any marks, bruises, or injuries on Huntley. The deputy called for an ambulance as his attempts to wake Huntley were unsuccessful. Huntley was taken to the hospital. At the hospital, Huntley became "very agitated" upon seeing the deputy and was yelling, swearing, and cursing at him.

Just after noon, J.F. went to the hospital to have her injuries evaluated. J.F. told the nurse what had happened to her. The nurse took pictures of J.F.'s injuries on her head, arms, hip, and legs[7]; she said the bruises "appeared new." The nurse noted she could feel a lump on J.F.'s head by her temple, but did not photograph it.

The deputy met with J.F. again the evening of June 10 and obtained her written statement. The written statement was consistent with J.F.'s verbal statement and included some additional details. The deputy was able to observe more bruising, took more pictures of J.F.'s arm injuries, and took pictures of handprints and recent marks in the dust on J.F.'s car.

After the jury returned its guilty verdicts, Huntley filed a motion for a new trial, which the court denied. Huntley appeals.


II. Prosecutorial Misconduct or Error.

We review claims of prosecutorial misconduct and denial of a mistrial for an abuse of discretion. State v. Plain, 898 N.W.2d 801, 810-11 (Iowa 2017).

During closing arguments, the State used a PowerPoint slideshow to highlight specific points of its case. Defense counsel objected to some of the prosecutor's statements. Towards the end of the prosecutor's argument, three slides captioned "Defendant's Inconsistent Statements" appeared, discussing text messages and statements made to an officer that were not admitted at trial.

The prosecutor began reading each slide before clicking through. On the first challenged slide, the prosecutor started reading the first bullet point, "He stated in his messages-oops, sorry."[8] The prosecutor clicked through to the next slide and read the first bullet point: "The defendant told Sergeant Merrill that it was [J.F.] who knew the guys in the bar and not him, but . . . in a . . ."[9] before clicking through. On the third challenged slide, the...

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