State v. Overstreet, 54981

Citation243 N.W.2d 880
Decision Date30 June 1976
Docket NumberNo. 54981,54981
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Robert OVERSTREET, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

David P. Miller, Davenport, for appellant.

Richard C. Turner, Atty. Gen., Earl W. Roberts, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward N. Wehr, County Atty., for appellee.

Heard before REYNOLDSON, Acting C.J., and MASON, RAWLINGS, REES, and HARRIS, JJ.

MASON, Justice.

Robert Overstreet was charged by county attorney's information with the murder of Leymon Fields in violation of section 690.2, The Code. A jury returned a verdict finding him guilty of second degree murder. He appeals from judgment imposing sentence upon that conviction.

The incident giving rise to the charge occurred Christmas Eve 1970 at Freeman's Tap in Davenport. The record discloses defendant and several others proceeded from the Davenport home of Robert Liddell to Freeman's tavern at around 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. One witness stated to police defendant loaded a gun before entering the bar, but both defendant and the witness denied this at trial. In any event, decedent Fields had already arrived at the time defendant's party walked in.

Defendant and Fields, who were at least acquaintances, went into the men's room with two others, leaving the door open. While it is not clear what transpired, Miss Williams, the barmaid on duty, thought Fields and defendant were arguing, so she told them if they wished to continue to go outside. At this point the men left the restroom and walked up to the bar. There was testimony each told the other he had no gun.

At the bar the argument resumed. Defendant testified Fields accused him of drinking his beer and demanded defendant buy him another. The barmaid's second admonition apparently caused defendant to walk away. Unfortunately, he returned and Miss Williams saw him slap Fields. Another witness heard a 'lick pass' but did not see who delivered it. When Fields stood up the waitress observed defendant had a pistol. There was no real conflict whether defendant possessed a gun, but the testimony was not in agreement whether Fields pulled a knife.

At this point, defendant fired three shots into Fields. Even so wounded, a several minute scuffle ensued continuing until Fields weakened and fell mortally wounded to the floor. Several witnesses testified defendant was cut behind the ear which defendant claimed Fields administered before he fired the shots.

In any event, defendant testified he in fact shot Fields, but that it was in self-defense. This testimony was in direct conflict with that of the State's rebuttal witnesses, two Davenport detectives. They testified defendant, on Christmas morning after being advised of his constitutional rights and privileges, stated he did not know who shot Fields, claiming the shots came from behind.

After the shooting and after Fields fell to the floor defendant dropped the pistol and ran from the tavern. The police, called to the scene by Miss Williams, found a bone handled knife and pistol which was later identified as the murder weapon by means of ballistics testing. One officer examined Fields and decided he was probably dead. In fact, he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, and doctors performing the subsequent autopsy concluded death was caused by a bullet through the heart.

Meanwhile, other police officers were informed they could find defendant at the Liddell home. After considerable abuse from persons at this house, the police finally coaxed defendant from the attic with the threat of tear gas and placed him under arrest. Trial ensued.

At the close of State's evidence, the defense moved for a directed verdict on the ground the pistol (exhibit 1) 'had not been connected to the defendant, not been identified by one witness as belonging to the defendant, nor connected to him in any manner.' The trial court overruled the motion.

Defendant again submitted a motion for a directed verdict at the end of all evidence. The several grounds urged in support thereof were: (1) the pistol was not connected to defendant; (2) the only direct evidence defendant committed the crime came from his own lips and not from the testimony of other witnesses; and (3) the evidence was insufficient to submit the case to the jury. This motion too was overruled in every respect.

Finally, defendant objected the jury instruction on flight was unwarranted for the reason that while defendant possibly fled from the scene he did not know Fields was dead. A flight instruction, however, was given.

Following the verdict of guilty, defendant filed a 'motion for new trial and to set aside the verdict' for the reasons, (1) the murder weapon was not connected to defendant, (2) the flight instruction was erroneous, (3) the verdict resulted from passion and prejudice, in that the jury was white and defendant black, (4) the verdict was 'contrary to the law and evidence,' and (5) there was a witness whom defense attorney 'did not find and could not find at the time he was trying the case' who possessed knowledge of decedent's 'mean propensities.' (The affidavit of this witness revealed Fields was the aggressor in a fight previous to the one involved in this case, that he was 'a menace in the Black community and was a person with a mean character' who would force money from people. It was further stated Fields, an aggressive trouble maker, hated defendant. Affiant further opined defendant 'did a service to the Community' by shooting Fields).

The trial court overruled the motion for new trial and sentenced defendant to a life term at hard labor. June 1, 1971, defendant filed notice of appeal. This court subsequently ordered new counsel be appointed to handle the appeal.

Defendant maintains: (1) the evidence will not support the verdict in view of his complete defense of self-defense; (2) the trial court erroneously submitted the flight instruction; (3) the trial court committed reversible error by overruling defendant's motion for a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence; and (4) the sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor constituted an abuse of discretion.

These contentions present the issues for review.

I. Defendant initially contends the evidence as a matter of law does not support the verdict. Although the argument in support of this proposition is rather confusing, it nevertheless appears defendant asserts a reasonable doubt as to his guilt existed as a matter of law. Expressed differently, the contention is the State did not prove the nonexistence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a nutshell, defendant's argument boils down to this: the facts bearing upon self-defense were undisputed, even in view of the State's rebuttal evidence bringing into question defendant's credibility. Thus, the problem was one of application of the law to undisputed facts--a question of law for the court rather than a question of fact for the jury. It is also argued the question whether the gun admitted into evidence was actually used by defendant was one of law.

The evidence was in dispute on the issue of self-defense. The State, in its brief and argument, aptly points out a factual dispute was shown by the evidence as to 'whether or not the appellant retreated as far as was reasonable, honestly believed he was in eminent (sic, imminent) danger of death or great bodily harm, and had reasonable grounds for such belief, * * *.' These factors, the State asserts, 'must be resolved on the basis of what the various witnesses described as having occurred.'

Once again we repeat the principles of law governing the scope of our review in a criminal action.

In making a determination as to the propriety of the court's ruling on a motion for directed verdict in a criminal case this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the state regardless of whether it is contradicted and every legitimate inference that may be fairly and reasonably deducted therefrom must be carried to the aid of the evidence.

In light of this principle the cause in a criminal action should be submitted to the jury and the court should not direct a verdict of acquittal if there is any substantial evidence reasonably tending to support the charge. Either direct or circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to warrant a verdict of guilty. However, where circumstantial evidence alone is relied on as to an essential element the circumstances must be entirely consistent with defendant's guilt, wholly inconsistent with any rational hypothesis of his innocence, and so convincing as to exclude a reasonable doubt that defendant was guilty of the offense charged. Like direct evidence it must raise a fair inference of guilt, generate something more than suspicion, speculation or conjecture.

It is equally well settled that on defendant's appeal from criminal conviction based on jury verdict challenging sufficiency of evidence to sustain the verdict, this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and accepts as established all reasonable inferences tending to support the jury's action. It is necessary to consider only the supporting evidence whether contradicted or not. It is for the fact finder, not us, to resolve questions of fact and determine the credibility of witnesses. Thus, a finding of guilt by the trier of fact is binding on this court unless we find it is without substantial support in the record or is clearly against the weight thereof. See State v. Reeves, 209 N.W.2d 18, 21 (Iowa 1973); State v. Dahlstrom, 224 N.W.2d 443, 447--448 (Iowa 1974); State v. Menke, 227 N.W.2d 184, 188 (Iowa 1975); and State v. Rosewall, 239 N.W.2d 171, 173 (Iowa 1976).

One who seeks to rely upon self-defense must in some manner interpose that defense before the burden falls upon the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he was not acting in self-defense. However, under a plea of not guilty an accused may avail himself of the defense of self-defense without being required...

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  • State v. Jacoby, 59756
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 21, 1977
    ...the State the burden of proof to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was not acting in self-defense. State v. Overstreet, 243 N.W.2d 880, 884 (Iowa 1976). This instruction set out the four conditions which must be met to justify homicide, identified most recently in State v. ......
  • State v. Williams, 61228
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    • November 14, 1979
    ...elements which distinguish first degree murder from second degree murder. Our review of this issue is governed by State v. Overstreet, 243 N.W.2d 880, 883-84 (Iowa 1976), except that, as appellate counsel for defendant concede, circumstantial evidence is considered in light of the revised s......
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    ...expressed in 501.13 and a long line of Iowa cases. See, e. g., State v. McDaniel, 265 N.W.2d 917, 924 (Iowa 1978); State v. Overstreet, 243 N.W.2d 880, 883-84 (Iowa 1976); State v. Hall, 235 N.W.2d 702, 715 (Iowa 1975), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 822, 98 S.Ct. 66, 54 L.Ed.2d 79 (1977); State v.......
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    ...supplied.) The foregoing language from the Cupples case was quoted with approval by the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Overstreet, 243 N.W.2d 880 at 887, a decision filed on June 30 of this year. In the Overstreet case the Court affirmed the trial judge's sentence of life imprisonment for s......
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