State v. Seager

Decision Date22 October 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96-1328,96-1328
Citation571 N.W.2d 204
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellant, v. Monte Wendell SEAGER, Appellee.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Ann E. Brenden and James Kivi, Assistant Attorneys General, and Michael A. Riepe, County Attorney, for appellant.

Linda Del Gallo, State Appellate Defender, and John P. Messina, Assistant State Appellate Defender, for appellee.


TERNUS, Justice.

Defendant, Monte Seager, has been charged twice for the 1978 murders of Clementine Beavers and her daughter, Karol. The first charge was dismissed in 1984, after the district court had suppressed the alleged murder weapon because the search warrant under which it had been seized lacked probable cause. After a second warrant was obtained and executed in 1993 to seize the same weapon, Seager was again charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Seager again filed a motion to suppress the weapon and related evidence. The district court ruled principles of collateral estoppel prevented the State from relitigating the admissibility of the weapon, and because the testing of the weapon was a fruit of its illegal seizure, results of that testing were also inadmissible. This court granted the State's request for an interlocutory appeal. We reverse.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On October 30, 1978, Max Beavers discovered the bodies of his wife, Clementine Beavers, and his seventeen-year-old daughter, Karol Beavers. Both had died of gunshot wounds to the head; Karol Beavers had been sexually assaulted. The authorities quickly identified the type of bullet that had killed the victims, .22 caliber manufactured by CCI, and the rifling pattern left on the bullets. Five weapons were identified as capable of firing the bullets, one of which was a Mossberg rifle.

On November 2, 1978, the authorities interviewed Seager, a classmate of Karol Beavers. Seager told the police he watched television and went to bed the night of the murders. (His father and stepmother, with whom he lived, could not corroborate this alibi.) Seager acknowledged he owned a .22 caliber Mossberg magnum rifle, a fact confirmed by Seager's stepmother and firearm records documenting her purchase of the gun for Seager. Seager also stated he target-practiced with the Mossberg rifle near Saunders Park.

In April of 1979, Susan Wheelock was badly beaten and later that month died of her injuries. The authorities suspected Seager of this crime, and on April 16, 1979, executed a search warrant at Seager's residence to obtain evidence in the Wheelock murder. Agents for the Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) observed the Mossberg rifle and CCI ammunition at the residence, but did not seize these items. (Seager was subsequently convicted of the second-degree murder of Wheelock.)

On July 11, 1979, and again on July 26, 1979, the authorities executed search warrants at the Seager residence to search for evidence in the Beavers murders. The Mossberg rifle and the CCI ammunition were seized during the latter search. On August 6, 1979, a hearing was held on return of the July 26, 1979, search warrant; no one claimed the property seized. (Seager was incarcerated continuously from mid-April 1979 for the Wheelock murder.)

The authorities continued to investigate the Beavers murders subsequent to their seizure of Seager's rifle, and between August 10, 1979, and January 30, 1981, learned additional facts incriminating Seager: (1) saliva left on Karol Beavers' breast was from an "O" type secretor and Seager is an "O" type secretor; (2) Seager's father said Seager had used nonmagnum .22 caliber ammunition in the Mossberg rifle; 1 (3) Seager's brother confirmed that he and Seager had shot the rifle at the park and the city dump; (4) results of the ballistics tests on the rifle revealed the rifling pattern on the bullets from that rifle were consistent with the rifling pattern on the bullets recovered from the victims; (5) Seager's stepmother reported that Seager stayed home sick the day after the murders and she saw him burn something that afternoon that looked like clothing; (6) Seager provided authorities with a map showing exactly where in Saunders Park he and his brother shot targets; (7) ballistics tests on bullets recovered from telephone poles in Saunders Park showed that three of the bullets were of the same type as those recovered from the murder victims (CCI .22 caliber long-rifle) and that one bullet had been fired from the same gun that fired the bullet taken from Clementine Beavers' body; and (8) Seager's brother took the authorities to the target-shooting site to confirm that the recovered bullets were extracted from the telephone poles where he and Seager target practiced.

In August 1981, the grand jury indicted Monte Seager in the murders of Clementine and Karol Beavers. Seager filed a motion to suppress the Mossberg rifle and ammunition and the subsequent ballistics testing of those items, claiming the July 26, 1979 search warrant was invalid. 2 The district court's suppression of this evidence was upheld on appeal. State v. Seager, 341 N.W.2d 420, 432 (Iowa 1983). Upon remand of the case to the district court, the charges against Seager were dismissed without prejudice.

The State then filed an application for an order determining the disposition of the seized property. Finding no claims of ownership or claims for return of the property, the district court ordered the Mossberg rifle and ammunition forfeited to the State for disposition pursuant to Iowa Code section 691.9 (1983). 3

On July 26, 1993, fourteen years to the day after execution of the first search warrant, the State obtained and executed a second search warrant to seize the Mossberg rifle from the Iowa Highway Patrol office in Mt. Pleasant, where the rifle had been stored since its forfeiture to the State in 1984. Upon obtaining the rifle, new ballistics tests were conducted. These tests confirmed that the Mossberg rifle fired the bullet that killed Clementine Beavers.

Seager was again charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He moved to suppress the rifle and any fruits of the illegal 1979 search. The district court ruled the rifle itself could not be used as evidence because the admissibility of the rifle had already been determined adversely to the State in the prior action and principles of collateral estoppel prevented the State from relitigating that issue in this action. The district court also suppressed the ballistics testing of the rifle done after the 1993 seizure, ruling it was a fruit of the illegal 1979 search. Seager's request to suppress the information gained by the State from its interviews of his stepmother, his father and his brother was denied. The district court held the investigation of Seager as the possible murderer, including whether Seager's .22 caliber Mossberg rifle was the murder weapon, was in progress before the 1979 seizure of the rifle. Because this ongoing investigation, not the 1979 seizure of the rifle, led to interviews of the challenged witnesses and because the 1979 seizure and testing did not influence the authorities in their questioning of these witnesses, their testimony was untainted by the illegal seizure. We granted the State's request for discretionary review of the district court's ruling. 4

II. Scope of Review.

The suppression of the rifle and related ballistics testing rested on the district court's determination that the seizure of Seager's rifle violated the Fourth Amendment. See U.S. Const. amend. IV (prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures). We review this constitutional claim de novo. State v. Gogg, 561 N.W.2d 360, 363 (Iowa 1997). In doing so, we independently evaluate the totality of the circumstances shown in the record. State v. Brecunier, 564 N.W.2d 365, 367 (Iowa 1997).

III. Collateral Estoppel.

The district court suppressed the rifle because it concluded "the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars relitigation of the admissibility of the weapon." Collateral estoppel or issue preclusion "means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit." Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 443, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 1194, 25 L.Ed.2d 469, 475 (1970). An "ultimate fact" is a "question[ ] of fact essential to the prior judgment." State v. Stergion, 248 N.W.2d 911, 913 (Iowa 1976).

Four conditions must be met for collateral estoppel or issue preclusion to apply:

(1) the issue concluded must be identical; (2) the issue must have been raised and litigated in the prior action; (3) the issue must have been material and relevant to the disposition of the prior action; and (4) the determination made of the issue in the prior action must have been necessary and essential to the resulting judgment.

Hunter v. City of Des Moines, 300 N.W.2d 121, 123 (Iowa 1981). The defendant bears the burden to show the existence of the prerequisites for application of the collateral estoppel doctrine. State v. Butler, 505 N.W.2d 806, 809 (Iowa 1993).

We think Seager has failed to demonstrate the existence of the first element: "the issue decided in the prior trial [is] precisely the same issue presented in the pending action." State v. Sunclades, 305 N.W.2d 491, 495 (Iowa 1981). Seager argues the issue with which we are concerned is the admissibility of the rifle, the same issue in the prior case. The State argues the issue presently before the court is the validity of the 1993 warrant, whereas the issue in the prior proceeding was the validity of the 1979 warrant. We agree with the State's characterization of the issues because that characterization is consistent with our prior cases dealing with the identity of issues for purposes of issue preclusion.

In In re Marriage of Guyer, ...

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