By PETER HUSSMANN
The Iowa Court of Appeals today upheld a Newton man's conviction last year for second degree murder in the shooting death of his girl friend in October 2010 at the eastside Newton home they shared.
Jay Dee Mack had appealed his conviction in the shooting death of Angie Ancer claiming the district court erred in denying his motion for acquittal, improperly excluding evidence regarding Ancer's character, failing to provide evidence presented at trial jurors sought during their deliberations and prejudicing him by not granting his change of venue motion.
The Appeals Court rejected each of the arguments.
On appeal, Mack argued that his motion for acquittal should have been granted because the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove the malice aforethought element of murder in the second degree. He also raised a new claim of "serious provocation" to support a conviction of voluntary manslaughter.
However, during his first degree murder trial at the Jasper County Courthouse last July, the motion for judgment of acquittal was made at the close of the state's case claiming it had failed to prove the "element of specific intent."
"Mack argued his blood alcohol content resulted in an inability to form the specific intent required for murder in the first degree," the ruling states.
The court rejected the arguments stating that Mack "failed to raise at trial the specific grounds he now raises on appeal. Therefore, the issues were not preserved, and we do not reach them here."
Mack also argued that the court's refusal to admit evidence of Ancer's character prejudiced his case. During the trial, the court refused to allow testimony about an incident in 2008 when "Ancer became enraged" at a party when a lit cigarette caused a fire in the couple's car.
The Appeals Court noted, however, that evidence of the victim's character to prove she acted in conformity to her reputation would only have been admissible had Mack claimed he acted in self-defense. Though Mack testified that he was scared of Ancer, he did not assert a defense of justification or self-defense. In supporting the district court's exclusion of the testimony, the Appeals Court noted the Iowa Supreme Court's stance on the issue.
"All persons, independently of their character or reputation, are under the equal protection of the law," the Supreme Court previously stated. "A homicide victim's prior violent or turbulent character or reputation is ordinarily immaterial and furnishes no excuse to become his or her private executioner. Thus, where the accused denies the killing or asserts it was unintentional, evidence of the deceased's character is inadmissible."
Had Mack asserted self-defense, however, the evidence likely would have been admitted, the Appeals Court noted in its ruling citing previous language from the Supreme Court.
"But an exception to this general rule applies where the accused asserts he or she acted in self-defense and the slightest supporting evidence is introduced," the Supreme Court has stated. "Then the violent, quarrelsome, dangerous or turbulent character of the deceased may be shown, both by evidence of his or her reputation in that respect and by witnesses who can testify from an actual knowledge of the victim's character."
Mack next contended the court erred in not allowing the jurors' request during deliberations "for a piece of technology to review the video evidence," including Mack's interrogation by Newton police.
The Appeals Court noted the trial court has "considerable discretion" to grant or deny a jury's request to view exhibits received in evidence during deliberations.
At trial, Judge Paul Huscher denied the jury's request to review the video evidence even though the state and defense had agreed to its submission during jury deliberations. The judge "believed the jury was adequately instructed during the trial that they needed to pay attention to the evidence ... for they would only hear it once."
The trial court was concerned about providing the jury a computer to review the evidence because it "could be subjected to improper use" by accessing other, non-evidence materials.
The Appeals Court said the district court judge did not abuse his discretion in denying access to the video evidence during the jury's deliberations.
Mack finally contended the district court's denial of his request for a change of venue "reduced the chances of selecting jurors not prejudiced (in favor of) the victim" because "Ms. Ancer was known and well recognized by the public (via employment) in her community."
A hearing on the motion for a change of venue was held a month before the jury trial. However, the Appeals Court noted that neither party presented evidence at the hearing so the district court ruled no transfer was necessary because "no showing was made that the defendant could not obtain a fair trial or impartial jury in Jasper County."
During jury selection prior to trial, eight jurors said they knew the victim. Of those, five were excused for cause, one was the subject of peremptory strike by the attorneys and two had limited familiarity with Ancer.
"From the facts presented in the record, we cannot presume prejudice," the Appeals Court ruled. "We therefore find the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion to change venue."
Mack was charged with first-degree murder after shooting Ancer shortly after 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 following an argument at their home at 213 E. 19th St. S. Prosecutors contended Mack willfully and deliberately shot Ancer while the defense contended the shooting occurred after Mack "snapped" that night due to years of being the recipient of domestic abuse.
Mack was convicted of the lesser included offense of second degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison.