Iowa Supreme Court Final Ruling

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld the ruling that Mark Becker is guilty of the killing of Parkersburg’s football coach, Ed Thomas despite using the insanity plea.

This plea came after much uproar that Becker was incapable of understanding his actions of the time of the murder. This plea, was found to be not true and Becker’s actions were premeditated and was aware of his actions before, during, and after the shooting. To recap what exactly happened, one would have to realize this was one of the largest events to rock Iowa since 1912 at the time of the Villisca Axe Murders. Mark Becker was initially accused of entering the Aplington-Parkersburg makeshift weight room in Parkersburg about 7:45 a.m. June 24th of 2009 and shooting beloved football coach and friend to many, Ed Thomas, several times. Thomas died later at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo.

Thomas’ funeral and burial was attended by thousands who gathered to mourn the tragic loss. He was later issued on the front cover of Sports Illustrated. By showing this amount of love and affection for one man, one town was able to recollect on the loss of not only such a great man, but a great football coach who had produced four NFL players. The most heartfelt part about those players is their return to Parkersburg to serve as pallbearers at his funeral June 29th, 2009.

Becker and his attorneys laid out their reasoning behind why Becker was mentally ill before and at the time of the murder. Becker appealed his conviction, claiming the district court improperly instructed the jury when it submitted the Iowa State Bar Association’s jury instructions defining the elements of the insanity defense instead of the instruction Becker requested. He also claimed the district court violated his due process rights under the Iowa Constitution when it refused to instruct the jury as to the consequences of a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict. Finally, Becker claims the restitution order, including the expert witness fees paid to Becker’s expert witnesses, exceeded the maximum amount allowed by the statute. The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s rulings on all three issues.

According to the Court, “When the instructions already accurately state the law, the defendant is not entitled to have his proposed instruction submitted to the jury.”

The circumstances of Becker’s mental illness were seen by the jury as recurring episodes of extreme violence and the unsuccessful treatment of schizophrenia. This is a reason why Becker fought the court for appeal. Because of the counsel’s understanding that if the jury was kept in the dark about the consequences of verdict of insanity, the jury would not allow Becker to be let loose knowing his violent past with little to no success in treatment. This made it questionable that Becker could receive a fair trial because the jury was not provided with this information that could have changed the results of the verdict.

To dive a little deeper into what exactly is considered for a person who is claiming to be mentally insane or unstable, we must first look at the definition in the courts of the word, “sane”. “Paragraph three says a person is “sane” if he “had sufficient mental capacity” to do certain things, as opposed to the statute, which says a person is “insane” if he is “incapable” of doing those things. Iowa Code § 701.4. “Incapable” means “lacking capacity, ability, or qualification for the purpose or end in view.” Merriam–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 628 (11th ed. 2004). Thus, a person who is “incapable” of knowing or distinguishing would “lack capacity” to know or distinguish” – page 18 of the court release from the Supreme Court of Iowa filed July 20, 2012.

Becker’s proposal that instruction was “inadequate to achieve its aim” of reducing the jury’s concerns about the consequences of a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict. The jury agreed that Becker’s request to have the jury informed about the consequences would not provide any guarantees to the jury as to when and under what circumstances Becker might be released. The Supreme Court stated, “[I]f the members of a jury are so fearful of a particular defendant’s release that they would violate their oaths by convicting [the defendant] solely in order to ensure that he is not set free, it is questionable whether they would be reassured by anything short of an instruction strongly suggesting that the defendant, if found NGI (not gulity because of insanity), would very likely be civilly committed for a lengthy period.”

By affirming the ruling of the district court, Justice Zager put Mark Becker away for life in prison, life without parole, and a possible restitution to the victim’s family. More details about previous cases of the insanity plea and success rates were mentioned in the release from the appeal. On page 12 of this report, we learn of the first considered insanity defense by the Iowa courts during the State vs. Felter case all the way back in 1868.

Like most cases, this was to be modeled and modified with different judgements as the years moved by and we began to understand the psychology behind the human brain even more. A popular note that helps with a majority of these rulings that played a key role in the decision of this appeals court is that if the Defendant has failed to prove either of the elements by a preponderance of the evidence, then the Defendant is guilty. For more information about this appeal, please visit the published PDF of the ruling here: http://www.iowacourts.gov/About_the_Courts/Supreme_Court/Supreme_Court_Opinions/Recent_Opinions/20120720/10-0631.pdf

 

 

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