Woman Pleads To Conspiracy Charges In Death Of
November 23, 2011
A Boone woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy
to commit murder and accessory after the fact in the death of her
husband Michael Hill, according to a report from the Ames Tribune.
Jessica Hill received both a 10-year and 2-year
sentence that will be served consecutively.
Hill was convicted of second-degree murder in
February 2008 in Pottawattamie County after her attorney successfully
asked to have the case moved there. Hill was sentenced to 50 years in
prison, but in April 2011 the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling
granting Hill a new trial, saying that testimony given at trial by one
witness was inadmissible hearsay.
Michael "Shane" Hill was shot to death May 28,
2007, at a sheep farm near Ogden where he was working.
Court overturns conviction in sheep farmer's
April 13, 2011
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) --- A woman convicted in the
2007 slaying of her sheep farmer husband should get a new trial
because testimony from a witness should not have been allowed at
trial, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
The appeals court overturned the second-degree
murder conviction of Jessica Hill, who is serving a 50-year sentence
for the slaying of her husband, Shane Hill, who was shot to death on
the sheep farm where he worked in Boone County.
Shane Hill, who carried a pistol while he worked,
called 911 twice in six minutes that morning to report he had
accidentally shot himself. It was later determined he had been gunned
down, court records show.
Two other men, including Jessica Hill's former
boyfriend, Daniel Blair, also were convicted in the case.
Blair is serving a life sentence after being found
guilty of first-degree murder. Blair's roommate, Aron Moss, was
convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 50-year sentence.
At question is the testimony of Lisa Lewis, who is
described in court records as a friend of Blair's and who testified
about things Blair told her the day after Shane Hill died.
Court records show that Lewis testified that Blair
told her that "they made somebody disappear." She testified that Blair
also sent her a text message asking her not to tell anyone about their
conservation. He also asked her to provide an alibi for him, records
Lewis testified that Blair later told her "they had
shot somebody" and that they did it because "they did not like the way
he was treating his wife and they would be together no matter what."
Lewis testified that she assumed when Blair said
"they" shot someone, he assumed he meant himself and Moss, court
She testified that she had been friends with Blair
and Moss for several months but did not know Jessica Hill.
Hill argued in her appeal that Lewis' testimony was
hearsay and should not have been allowed at trial.
The court agreed that Lewis' testimony "constitutes
hearsay and is not admissible."
The statements, the court said, were material to
proving Blair's guilt and to prove that Blair and Moss were at the
farm when Shane Hill was shot but did not indicate Jessica Hill
"participated in, encouraged, or knew of the crime."
Records do show that Hill and Blair had exchanged
messages the morning her husband died. She messaged Blair that her
husband had left for work and what kind of vehicle he was driving. She
also had expressed to Blair that she wished "Shane would never come
home," court documents show.
Records also show that she had on prior occasions
told Blair she wouldn't want him to be the one that shot her husband
but in her interview with police she said didn't tell anyone to kill
her husband, didn't pay anyone to kill him and didn't want it to
The court rejected arguments by Hill that there
wasn't sufficient evidence to support her conviction and that her
videotaped statements to investigators during a police interview
should be suppressed.
Hill's attorney, Angela Campbell, said she was
pleased the court reversed Hill's conviction on the hearsay argument.
"There were three issues and we won one and that
sends it back for a new trial," Campbell said. "I don't know what our
position will be about seeking further review on the other two
She said she had not spoken yet with Hill about the
ruling and that a decision to seek further review would not be made
for a while.
Telephone messages left for the Iowa attorney
general's office Wednesday were not immediately returned.
Boone Co. woman gets new trial in husband’s
By Jeff Eckhoff - Desmoinesregister.com
April 13, 2011
A Boone County woman convicted of second-degree
murder for allegedly helping two men shoot her husband will get a new
trial due to statements from a fourth person that improperly were
heard by the jury, the Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled.
Jessica Hill, whose husband Michael Shane Hill, 29,
was shot to death on a sheep farm south of Odgen in 2007, now is
serving a 50-year prison term.
Shane Hill, who reportedly had attempted to shoot a
dog at the time of his death, originally dialed 911 to report that
he’d been hit by a ricochet. The others were arrested after ballistics
tests on the bullet failed to match the gun Hill was carrying.
Jurors in 2009 found that Jessica Hill aided and
abetted the shooting by Daniel Blair, with whom she was having an
affair, and Aron Moss, Blair’s roommate. Wednesday’s ruling
acknowledges that “substantial evidence supports a finding that
Jessica knew of and either participated in or encouraged the plan to
However, justices ruled that the trial judge erred
in allowing a friend of Blair’s to testify that Blair had told her
“they did not like the way he was treating his wife, and they would be
together no matter what.”
Such statements, the justices ruled, “connected
Jessica to Blair and suggested she was the motivation for the crime”
without making Blair available for cross examination.
“In this case, where the evidence of guilt was
barely sufficient, the state failed to establish that Blair’s
statements were not prejudicial,” the ruling says. “We therefore
reverse the judgment of the district court and remand this case for a
Iowa woman sentenced in husband's death
January 23, 2010
BOONE (KWWL) - A Boone County judge has sentenced a
Boone woman to 50 years in prison for her involvement in her husband's
killing. District Court Judge Dale Ruigh imposed the maximum sentence
Friday on Jessica Hill, who was convicted last fall of second-degree
murder in the 2007 shooting death of her husband, Shane Hill.
Jessica Hill's trial -- the third in the highly
publicized case -- was held in Pottawatamie County on a change of
venue. Jessica Hill had admitted to having an affair with Daniel
Blair. Blair was convicted of first-degree murder in the case in 2008.
Another man, Aaron Moss was convicted of second-degree murder for his
involvement. Ruigh said Jessica Hill must serve 35 years of her
sentence before she'll be eligible for parole.
Boone woman told investigators she wanted
husband gone, not dead
By Chad Nation- World-Herald News Service
Friday, December 17, 2010
COUNCIL BLUFFS -- Jessica Hill told investigators
she mentioned to numerous people she wanted her husband to disappear,
but it never crossed her mind that something would happen to him.
Hill, 27, of Boone, is accused of aiding in the
death of her husband, Michael “Shane” Hill, who was fatally shot on
May 28, 2007, on a farm near Ogden.
During the second day of the first-degree murder
trial against Hill, jurors heard Shane Hill’s last words and listened
to one of three taped interviews Jessica Hill had with investigators.
The trial was moved from Boone County to
Pottawattamie County because of publicity surrounding the killing.
Jessica Hill admits to having had an affair with
Daniel Blair, who has been convicted of first-degree murder in the
case. Another man, Aron Moss, who was accused of helping in the
slaying, was convicted of second-degree murder.
In an 80-minute interview with agents from the Iowa
Division of Criminal Investigation three days after her husband’s
death, Jessica Hill said she often mentioned she “wished” Shane Hill
would not come home.
On the morning of her husband’s death, Jessica Hill
said she told Blair that things would be easier if Shane Hill went
“He told me to be careful what I wish for,” Hill
told investigators in the interview.
She also said she told Blair what vehicle her
husband was driving that morning.
During the interview, which was the third interview
Hill had with DCI agents, Special Agent Bret Braafhart told her that
investigators believed she had a relationship with Blair that she was
Hill told investigators that she continued to have
an affair with Blair, who was “like a brother” to Shane Hill, even
after she went back to her husband in 2005.
Braafhart asked her why others might believe she
conspired with Blair to “do this.”
“I have no idea. It has never crossed my mind,”
Jessica Hill said.
When pressed further, Hill admitted she had told
others she wished her husband “wouldn’t come home and I wouldn’t have
to worry about it anymore.”
“I never thought anything would come of it,” she
said. “I didn’t tell anybody to kill my husband.”
Hill’s attorney, Meredith Nerem, pointed out that
Hill voluntarily attended every interview she was asked to attend.
Special Agent Terry Cowman said Hill answered every question
Wednesday, the jury also heard two frantic
telephone calls to 911 from Shane Hill on the day he was shot.
In the calls -- one to Boone County 911 and a
second to Greene County 911 -- Shane Hill told operators he had
accidentally shot himself at the Ogden farm where he worked. In the
second call, a second gunshot can be heard and Hill screamed, “the gun
went off again,” and his moans gradually ceased.
By the time law enforcement and rescue crews
arrived, Hill was dead, and based on his telephone calls investigators
initially believed he accidentally shot himself with a .45-caliber
handgun he carried in a holster on his side.
Shane Hill’s mother, Patty Hill, testified she
found messages two days after her son’s death from Blair on Jessica
Hill’s computer stating he loved her, missed her and would be with her
soon. Patty Hill turned the computer over to the Boone County
After an autopsy was conducted on Shane Hill’s body
and the computer evidence was discovered, Cowman said the
investigation turned from an accidental shooting into a homicide.
Cowman said subpoenaed cell phone records showed 26
incoming text messages to Blair’s phone from a Yahoo.com account named
jhill2k, between 10:45 and 11:15 a.m. on the morning of the murder.
Shane Hill called 911 at 11:10 a.m.
Additionally, Cowman said 28 messages were sent
from Blair to the Yahoo account in the same time period.
However, investigators were unable to get the
content of messages because they were deleted from Blair’s cell phone
and the cell phone company does not retain the messages longer than
three days unless asked by law enforcement through a preservation
letter. Cowman said the letter was not faxed to the company until a
week after the shooting.
The state was expected to continue the prosecution
of the case today.
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA
State of Iowa v. Jessica K. Hill
STATE OF IOWA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
JESSICA K. HILL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
April 13, 2011
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Boone
County, David R. Danilson (pretrial motions) and Dale E. Ruigh
he opinion of the court was delivered by:
Jessica Hill appeals her second-degree murder
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
Heard by Sackett, C.J., and Potterfield and
Mansfield, JJ., but decided by Sackett, C.J., Potterfield, J., and
Mahan, S.J.*fn1 Danilson and Tabor, JJ., take no part.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings
Jessica began dating Shane Hill when she was
sixteen years old. They married in 2002, and two children were born to
the marriage. Daniel Blair lived with the Hills and helped raise the
children. However, in 2005, Shane discovered Blair and Jessica were
involved in an affair, and Blair moved out of the Hills' home. Jessica
left Shane, and she and her two children moved in with Blair. After
about three months, Jessica and the children returned to live with
Shane. Shane and Blair tried to repair their friendship but were
unsuccessful. As a result, there was tension between the two men who,
according to a friend, "always . . . said they were going to beat each
Shane worked on a sheep farm and often carried a
pistol while he did chores. On May 28, 2007, at approximately 11:10
a.m. and again at 11:16 a.m., Shane called 911 to report that he had
accidentally shot himself. He died shortly thereafter. An ensuing
investigation revealed that Shane had in fact been gunned down.
Jason Christensen, special agent with the Iowa
Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), and another officer spoke
with Jessica for roughly twenty minutes at the Boone County Sheriff's
Office on the date of Shane's death. Jessica informed the officers she
did not know of anyone who had a conflict with Shane. Jessica then
volunteered she had an affair with Blair in 2005 but stated that she
and Shane were back together and at the strongest point in their
relationship. She told the officers she did not think Blair was
involved in Shane's death. Jessica informed the officers she had last
seen Blair four months earlier when she saw him walking as she drove
On May 30, 2007, two officers spoke with Jessica
and with Shane's parents at the Boone County Sheriff's Office.
Terrance Cowman, special agent in charge with DCI, testified that he
brought the family in to have them listen to the tapes of Shane
calling 911. Cowman stated Jessica was "stoic" while she listened to
the tapes and showed no emotion. After the 911 calls were played,
Jessica informed the officers that she did not want any more ballistic
testing done on Shane's body.
On May 31, 2007, Cowman spoke with Shane's mother,
who informed him that the content of messages on a computer used by
Jessica suggested she was involved in an ongoing relationship with
Blair. After receiving this information, Cowman contacted Jessica and
asked her to come to the sheriff's office a third time.
Brett Braafhart, an agent with DCI, along with
Special Agent Matt Sauer interviewed Jessica at the Boone County
Sheriff's Office. This interview was recorded, and the first
approximate eighty minutes of the interview were played for the jury.
During the interview, Jessica initially stated that
she and Blair talked periodically after their affair for roughly two
years. She also stated that after she saw Blair walking by the side of
the road roughly four months earlier, she contacted Blair and they got
together once. She stated this was roughly two to three months earlier
and was the only time she had been with Blair since the affair in
2005. She admitted she still talked with Blair periodically on the
phone but said she had not seen him since Shane's death.
Officers informed Jessica they were interested in
her relationship with Blair because they believed it was more than
what she was telling them. Jessica then stated that she and Blair "did
talk all the time." She admitted to meeting Blair after work at his
place. She also stated that Blair came to Shane's mother's home on the
night of Shane's death. She admitted to having sexual contact with
Blair within the last two weeks. She stated that Blair loved her and
knew she was not happy with Shane, but he also knew she would never
leave Shane for him. She admitted to telling Blair and others on many
occasions that she wished Shane would disappear, but described these
statements as "things that you don't really mean but you say." She
expressed sadness over the fact that her relationship with Blair was
no longer hidden.
Jessica informed officers that she and Blair had
messaged back and forth on the morning of Shane's death. She messaged
Blair and told him Shane had finally left for work. She stated this
was a regular occurrence. She stated that at one point, Blair asked
what Shane was driving, and she provided that information. She also
expressed again to Blair that she wished Shane would never come home.
When asked, Jessica stated she did not suspect that Blair harmed
Shane. She said that on previous occasions, she had told Blair she
would never want him to be the one that shot Shane. Jessica stated
that she did not tell anyone to kill Shane, did not pay anyone to kill
him, did not know anything about his murder, and did not want it to
Other evidence implicated Blair and Blair's
roommate, Aron Moss, in Shane's murder. In May 2007, Blair and Moss
obtained a 30-06 rifle. On May 17, 2007, Blair, along with an
unidentified man, bought two boxes of 30-06 ammunition. Around the
time of Shane's calls to 911, a passenger in a car saw a man, whom he
later identified as Moss, walking across the farmyard carrying a
rifle. DNA matching Moss's DNA was found on the sling of a rifle from
which a bullet recovered from Shane's body had been fired.
Fingerprints made by Blair and Moss were found on a box of 30-06
Blair spoke with a friend, Lisa Lewis, the weekend
before Shane's death and requested that she provide an alibi to him.
He requested that if anyone asked anything about him, she say that she
was with him all day on Memorial Day (May 28, 2007). When Lewis saw
Blair on the evening of May 28, he informed her "that they had made
somebody disappear." Blair texted Lewis later that night to inquire
whether she had said anything about their conversation and to ask that
she not discuss their conversation with anyone. Lewis talked to Blair
several days after Shane's death, and Blair told her "that they had
shot somebody." Lewis testified Blair said they did this because "they
did not like the way he was treating his wife and they would be
together no matter what." Blair further informed Lewis that "Aron
pulled the trigger." Lewis testified that when Blair told her they
shot somebody, she assumed he meant himself and Moss. Lewis had been
friends with Moss and Blair for several months and did not know
On June 8, 2007, Jessica was charged with
first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On October 8,
2009, the State filed a substituted trial information including only
the first-degree murder charge. Jessica filed pretrial motions, which
will be discussed in more detail as necessary below. At the close of
the evidence, the court instructed the jury that the state was
required to prove Jessica aided and abetted the commission of Shane's
murder. A jury returned a verdict of guilty of the lesser-included
offense of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Blair and Moss
were both charged in connection with Shane's death and had been
convicted by the time of Jessica's trial. A ruling on a motion in
limine prevented the jury from knowing about Blair's and Moss's
Jessica appeals her conviction, arguing: (1) the
district court erred in admitting the recorded interrogation, which
she asserts was obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment; (2) her
counsel was ineffective in failing to support her motion to suppress
statements made in the interrogation on the grounds that the
interrogation violated Jessica's rights under the Iowa Constitution
and that Jessica's statements were involuntary; (3) there was
insufficient evidence to support her conviction; (4) the district
court erred in admitting statements made by her accomplice, which she
argues were inadmissible hearsay; and (5) she was denied effective
counsel because her counsel had a conflict of interest.
II. Sufficiency of the Evidence
Jessica argues the evidence was insufficient to
prove she was guilty of second-degree murder.
We review challenges to the sufficiency of the
evidence for errors at law. State v. Atkinson, 620 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Iowa
2000). The State bears the burden of proving every element of the
crime with which Jessica is charged. See State v. Cashen, 666 N.W.2d
566, 569 (Iowa 2003). We uphold a finding of guilt if substantial
evidence supports the verdict. Id. Substantial evidence is evidence
upon which a rational fact finder could find a defendant guilty beyond
a reasonable doubt. Id. We review the facts in the light most
favorable to the State, including legitimate inferences and
presumptions that may reasonably be deduced from the evidence in the
record. Id. "Although direct and circumstantial evidence are equally
probative, the inferences to be drawn from the proof in a criminal
case must raise a fair inference of guilt as to each essential element
of the crime." State v. Speicher, 625 N.W.2d 738, 741 (Iowa 2001)
(citations and internal quotation omitted). "Evidence is not
substantial if it raises only suspicion, speculation, or conjecture."
Id. In determining whether the evidence was sufficient, we consider
all the evidence admitted during trial, including erroneously admitted
evidence. State v. Dullard, 668 N.W.2d 585, 597 (Iowa 2003).
The instructions permitted jurors to convict
Jessica only if they found her guilty of aiding and abetting. An aider
and abettor is charged, tried, and punished as a principal. See Iowa
Code § 703.1 (2007).
To sustain a conviction on the theory of aiding and
abetting, the record must contain substantial evidence the accused
assented to or lent countenance and approval to the criminal act
either by active participation or by some manner encouraging it prior
to or at the time of its commission.
State v. Spates, 779 N.W.2d. 770, 780 (Iowa 2010).
"[T]he State must prove the accused knew of the crime at or before its
commission," but the proof "may be either direct or circumstantial."
State v. Lewis, 514 N.W.2d 63, 66 (Iowa 1994). This evidence may
include companionship and conduct before and after the offense is
committed. See State v. Hustead, 538 N.W.2d 867, 870 (Iowa Ct. App.
1995). The State need not prove that Jessica possessed the intent to
commit the crime, but only that she had knowledge that the perpetrator
possessed the intent. See id. "Any participation in a general
felonious plan will normally support a conviction as a principal." Id.
We conclude that when the evidence is considered as
a whole in the light most favorable to the State including all
reasonable inferences, substantial evidence supports the jury's
First, the State established that Jessica had a
motive to participate in Shane's murder. She was involved in an
ongoing affair and wanted to be with Blair. During her third police
interview, Jessica stated that Blair had told her if she wanted to be
with him, she would have to leave Shane for Blair again. She told
Blair she could not do that because of the stress it would put on her
and her children. She explained, "[Shane] was psychotic when I left
him before. I wouldn't let [Blair] go anywhere by himself because I
was always afraid that Shane was gonna sniper rifle him off the top of
Second, on numerous occasions she had stated to
Blair that she wished Shane would disappear. Jessica had even gone so
far as to discuss with Blair how Shane could disappear. When asked
whether she had had a specific conversation with Blair about shooting
Shane, Jessica responded, "I don't think so," but continued to explain
that she had told Blair, "If [Shane] was ever to be shot . . . I
wouldn't want you to kill him because if you're killing him, then
that's defeating any purpose of anything because then I'm losing a
really awesome friend . . . ." Further, the morning of Shane's death,
Jessica had messaged Blair saying she wished Shane would never come
Third, Jessica was in frequent contact with Blair
on the morning of Shane's murder. Though this contact between Jessica
and Blair was not unusual, the timing of the text messages as well as
the known content of the messages support the jury's verdict. Officer
Cowman testified that from approximately twenty-five minutes before to
six minutes after Shane first called and reported being shot,
twenty-six messages were sent from Jessica's identifiers to Blair's
phone, and twenty-eight messages were sent from Blair to Jessica.
Jessica messaged Blair shortly after Shane left for work and informed
Blair that Shane had left. In addition, Jessica told officers that
Blair sent her a message asking what Shane was driving, and Jessica
Fourth, the jury could have found that Jessica's
behavior after the crime was not consistent with innocence. When
police first questioned Jessica regarding Shane's death, Jessica
stated that she did not know of anyone who had a conflict with Shane.
Jessica informed officers of her affair with Blair in 2005 but stated
that she and Shane had worked out their differences and were at the
strongest point in their relationship. She was also untruthful with
officers about the details of her affair with Blair. Jessica initially
led officers to believe the affair had ended in 2005 and the last time
she had seen Blair was four months earlier when she saw him walking as
she drove through Boone. Jessica did not initially inform officers she
still communicated with Blair. In addition, when Jessica spoke with
officers two days after Shane's death, she informed them that she
would not like any more ballistic testing done on Shane's body. When
viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the State, one
could infer that Jessica was attempting to steer the investigation
away from evidence pointing to her and Blair's involvement in Shane's
Although we believe this is a very close case, we
conclude that when considered as a whole in the light most favorable
to the State, substantial evidence supports a finding that Jessica
knew of and either participated in or encouraged the plan to murder
Lisa Lewis testified at trial regarding statements
allegedly made to her by Blair. The district court overruled Jessica's
objections to Lewis's testimony regarding Blair's statements the
weekend of the shooting, finding the statements were admissible as
admissions of a coconspirator, Blair. We review the admission of
claimed hearsay evidence for errors at law. State v. Paredes, 775
N.W.2d 554, 560 (Iowa 2009).
The Iowa Rules of Evidence define hearsay as a
"statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at
the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the
matter asserted." Iowa R. Evid. 5.801(c). Generally, hearsay is not
admissible unless it fits within one of several recognized hearsay
exceptions. Iowa R. Evid. 5.802. Inadmissible hearsay is considered to
be prejudicial to the nonoffering party unless otherwise established.
State v. Long, 628 N.W.2d 440, 447 (Iowa 2001).
We agree with the State that Lewis's testimony that
Blair told her after the shooting that "they had made somebody
disappear," "they had shot somebody," "they did not like the way he
was treating his wife and they would be together no matter what," and
"Aron pulled the trigger" constitutes hearsay and is not admissible as
statements made by Blair in furtherance of a conspiracy. See State v.
Kidd, 239 N.W.2d 860, 865 (Iowa 1976). We also agree with the State
that these statements are not admissible under Iowa Rule of Evidence
5.804(b)(3) as statements against interest. No court entered a ruling
exempting Blair from testifying in Jessica's trial; thus, Blair was
not an unavailable declarant pursuant to Iowa Rule of Evidence
5.804(a), and the statements against interest exception did not apply.
We reject the State's alternate argument that
Lewis's testimony about Blair's statements to her was admissible under
the residual exception to the hearsay rule. Iowa Rule of Evidence
A statement not specifically covered by any of the
exceptions in rules 5.803 or 5.804 but having equivalent
circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness, is not excluded by the
hearsay rule, if the court determines that (A) the statement is
offered as evidence of a material fact; (B) the statement is more
probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence
which the proponent can procure through reasonable efforts; and (C)
the general purposes of these rules and the interests of justice will
best be served by admission of the statement into evidence. However, a
statement may not be admitted under this exception unless the
proponent of it makes known to the adverse party sufficiently in
advance of the trial or hearing to provide the adverse party with a
fair opportunity to prepare to meet it, the proponent's intention to
offer the statement and the particulars of it, including the name and
address of the declarant.
The statements were, as the State argues, material
to prove Blair's guilt and to prove the presence of Blair and Moss at
the farm where Shane was shot. Blair's statements to Lewis were
probative on those points, but not more probative than evidence of the
ammunition and firearms, and not more probative than other statements
Blair made that were admitted as admissions of a coconspirator. More
importantly, Lewis's testimony was offered to prove Jessica's guilt as
an aider and abettor of Blair, and the statements are not probative on
that issue. The purposes of the hearsay rules are not served by the
admission into evidence of a coconspirator's statement about his own
guilt without specific reference to the defendant.
As the jury was instructed, Jessica's guilt as an
aider and abettor was to be determined "only on the facts which show
the part she has in it, and does not depend upon the degree of another
person's guilt." None of these four hearsay statements were probative
on the issue of Jessica's participation in the crime. None explicitly
stated that she participated in, encouraged, or knew of the crime. See
Spates, 779 N.W.2d at 780 (stating the record must contain substantial
evidence the accused actively participated in or by some manner
encouraged the criminal act prior to or at the time of its
commission). The statements were hearsay and were not admissible under
the residual hearsay exception.
Prejudice is presumed if hearsay is erroneously
admitted unless the contrary is affirmatively established by the
State. State v. Sowder, 394 N.W.2d 368, 372 (Iowa 1986). We conclude
Jessica was prejudiced by the admission of Blair's statements. Though
Lewis testified she believed Blair was referring to himself and Moss
when he said "they" shot somebody, the State argued that Blair's
statements included Jessica. Blair's statement that "they did not like
the way he was treating his wife and they would be together no matter
what" connected Jessica to Blair and suggested she was the motivation
for the crime. In this case where the evidence of guilt was barely
sufficient, the State failed to establish that Blair's statements were
not prejudicial. We therefore reverse the judgment of the district
court and remand this case for a new trial.
IV. Admission of Videotaped Interrogation
Because the following issue is likely to arise upon
retrial, we address it now.
On May 31, 2007, DCI special agents Brett Braafhart
and Matt Sauer interviewed Jessica at the Boone County Sheriff's
Office. Jessica filed a motion to suppress statements made during that
interview, arguing she had been subjected to custodial interrogation
without Miranda warnings. The district court granted Jessica's motion
in part but denied the motion as it pertained to the first roughly
eighty minutes of the interview. The State appealed from the district
court's ruling granting the motion to suppress in part, and this court
affirmed the portion of the district court's ruling suppressing the
latter part of this interview. See State v. Hill, No. 08-0657 (Iowa
Ct. App. Mar. 11 2009). Jessica asserts the court erred in admitting
any of the recorded interrogation, which she alleges was obtained in
violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Because Jessica's claim implicates her
constitutional rights, we review the record de novo. State v. Bogan,
774 N.W.2d 676, 679 (Iowa 2009). We review the totality of the
circumstances and consider both the evidence from the suppression
hearing and the evidence introduced at trial. Id. at 679--80.
Miranda warnings are not required unless there is
both custody and interrogation. State v. Countryman, 572 N.W.2d 553,
557 (Iowa 1997). The State concedes that Hill was interrogated and was
not given her Miranda warnings. Thus, the admissibility of her
statements turns on the question of whether she was in custody.
"The custody determination depends on the objective
circumstances of the interrogation, not on subjective views harbored
either by the officer or the person being questioned." Id. In applying
this objective analysis, we "ask whether a reasonable person in the
defendant's position would have understood his situation to be one of
custody." Bogan, 774 N.W.2d at 680. In making such a determination, we
consider the following four factors: (1) the language used to summon
the individual; (2) the purpose, place, and manner of interrogation;
(3) the extent to which the defendant is confronted with evidence of
her guilt; and (4) whether the defendant is free to leave the place of
questioning. Id. We will consider these factors in order.
A. Language Used to Summon Defendant
Cowman called Jessica and told her the police had
phone numbers she had requested from Shane's phone. He indicated it
would be better if she arrived soon to obtain the information. Cowman
did not inform Jessica he intended to interview her regarding her
relationship with Blair because he "didn't want her to not come in."
Hill never received phone numbers from Shane's phone.
The use of deceptive stratagems during questioning
is an indicium of custody. State v. Mortley, 532 N.W.2d 498, 501 (Iowa
Ct. App. 1995). Presumably, the use of deceptive strategies in
summoning Hill to the station would indicate custody as well and would
negate a finding that Jessica voluntarily approached officers. See
United States v. Kim, 292 F.3d 969, 974 (9th Cir. 2002) (stating that
a defendant can only voluntarily approach officers if the defendant
understands that questioning will ensue); State v. Smith, 546 N.W.2d
916, 923 (Iowa 1996) (finding defendant's involuntary presence is
indicative of custody). However, the fact that Jessica drove herself
to the station and would not have to rely on authorities for
transportation weighs in favor of a finding that she was not in
custody. See United States v. LeBrun, 363 F.3d 715, 723 (8th Cir.
B. Purpose, Place and Manner of Interrogation
The purpose of the interrogation was to question
Jessica about her relationship with Blair. At the beginning of the
interrogation, the officers informed her they wanted to clarify a few
things and find out what she knew about Shane's death. Approximately
one-half hour into the interrogation, the officers informed Jessica
they were talking to her about her relationship with Blair because
they believed it was more than she was telling them.
The interrogation took place at the Boone County
Sheriff's Office in a small interview room, approximately six feet by
eight feet. The officers were not in uniform, though they both wore
side-arms during the interview. Jessica did not have to pass through
any locked doors on her way to the interview room. Jessica had
previously been interviewed at this office on two occasions, and she
believed one of the interviews had been in the same room used on May
31. She returned home after both of the previous interviews.
The interrogation was informal and conversational.
Jessica sat several feet away from the two officers, who were not
blocking her access to the door. The officers' questions were
primarily of an investigatory nature and for the most part were not
aggressive or confrontational, which supports a finding that Jessica
was not in custody. See Smith, 546 N.W.2d at 924. Jessica answered
their questions and volunteered information on her own from time to
C. Extent of Confrontation with Evidence of
The interrogation began with questioning that was
general in nature. Officers then asked Jessica about the nature of her
relationship with Blair. Hill appeared to be relaxed and willing to
talk to the officers. After approximately ten minutes of
non-confrontational questioning about her relationship with Blair, the
officers stated they believed there was more to the relationship than
she was telling them. The officers then continued to question Jessica
about her relationship with Blair.
The officers informed Jessica that certain evidence
made it appear that Shane's death was not an accident. At times,
suggestions were made that the officers suspected Jessica was involved
in Shane's murder. For instance, at one point they asked Jessica, "Why
do you think somebody would say that you and [Blair] may have
conspired to do this?" The officers stressed the importance of Jessica
telling the truth and mentioned several times that they could look at
Jessica's messages and emails to verify that she was telling the
truth. Toward the end of the conversation, officers asked Jessica
about her conversations with Blair, stating they needed to know "how
long this has been in the works." Officers also suggested that Jessica
got on the computer the morning of Shane's death to set into motion a
plan to kill Shane. However, for the majority of the eighty minutes,
the officers asked non-confrontational questions that were general in
nature. The questions were not leading or repetitive and were asked in
a calm and quiet manner. Jessica appeared willing to talk and
volunteered information during the entire interview.
D. Freedom to Leave
Officers did not inform Jessica that she was free
to leave; however, they also did not tell her that she could not
leave. Jessica was not restrained in any manner during the
interrogation. Jessica was not arrested after the interrogation and
was allowed to return home. After roughly eighty minutes of
questioning, Jessica was given a break. During the break, she was
allowed to use the restroom and to go to her car to smoke and make
calls on her cell phone. She had her car keys at the time and admitted
at the suppression hearing that nothing would have stopped her from
leaving at that time. Hill returned to the station on her own.
After considering all of the factors, we are
convinced a reasonable person would not have understood this situation
to be one of custody. We do not believe it would be error to admit the
first roughly eighty minutes of the interrogation at retrial.
Because we conclude that inadmissible hearsay was
presented to the jury and prejudiced Hill in an otherwise close case,
we reverse her conviction and remand for new trial.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.