STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff - Appellee, vs. CHRISTOPHER ROBIN SCHMIDT, Defendant - Appellant.Annotate this Case
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA
No. 8-1021 / 07-2152
Filed March 26, 2009
STATE OF IOWA,
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN SCHMIDT,
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Marsha M.
Christopher Robin Schmidt appeals his judgment and sentence for firstdegree murder. AFFIRMED.
Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Shellie L. Knipfer, Assistant
Appellate Defender, for appellant.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Darrel Mullins, Assistant Attorney
General, Harold Denton, County Attorney, and Jerry Vander Sanden, Assistant
County Attorney, for appellee.
Heard by Mahan, P.J., and Miller and Doyle, JJ.
Christopher Robin Schmidt appeals his judgment and sentence for firstdegree murder. Schmidt contends the district court erred in failing to give his
proposed jury instruction on lack of motive and in denying his motion for a
mistrial. Upon our review, we affirm Schmidt’s conviction and sentence.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the jury could have found
the following facts:
On December 31, 2006, Robert Nelson was discovered lying dead on his
The anatomical findings showed Nelson had sustained
numerous lacerations to the face, had four teeth knocked out of his head, and
had fractures in the skull.
Three broken bar stools were found in Nelson’s
apartment and were established to be the murder weapons.
After learning that Schmidt was an acquaintance of Nelson’s, an
investigating officer interviewed Schmidt.
Schmidt was not a suspect at that
time. Schmidt told the officer that he and Nelson were friends, and that he had
been renting a car from Nelson for $100 a week. Schmidt told the officer that the
car had broken down and was in the shop for repairs, but he wasn’t concerned
about it. Schmidt told the officer that the last time he had seen Nelson, he had
made arrangements to meet Nelson at work and then the two went to Nelson’s
Schmidt was unsure of the date, but he indicated that
nothing unusual had happened; he and Nelson had watched television, ate some
food, and then Schmidt left.
Thereafter, investigators found a palm print and a fingerprint on two of the
bar stools. The prints were indentified to be Schmidt’s. Schmidt was then called
back for a second police interview, and he agreed to speak with the officers.
During the second interview, Schmidt’s story changed many times.
Initially, Schmidt stated again that he and Nelson watched TV, and then Schmidt
left. Later, Schmidt stated that another man showed up at Nelson’s and punched
Nelson in the face, and that Schmidt immediately left. Schmidt then stated that
he saw the man punch Nelson and hit Nelson over the head with the bar stools,
and then he left, fearing for his life. Finally, Schmidt confessed that he and
Nelson had gotten into a fight over the broken down car. Schmidt stated he told
Nelson he needed the $400 he had given him for the car rental, but Nelson only
had $100. Schmidt stated he and Nelson argued about the remaining $300, and
then Nelson pushed him into the wall. Schmidt stated that he then punched
Nelson in the face, and that Nelson pushed him into the wall again. Schmidt
stated that he next hit Nelson over the head with a nearby bar stool. The bar
stool broke on impact, but Nelson continued to get up. Schmidt stated that he
then grabbed another bar stool and hit Nelson in the head again. Schmidt stated
that he told Nelson to stay down, but Nelson continued to get up, so Schmidt hit
him again. Schmidt stated that when he left, Nelson was alive.
On January 11, 2007, the State charged Schmidt with first-degree murder,
alleging that Schmidt killed Nelson willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation.
Schmidt denied the State’s allegations, asserting among other things that he
lacked any motive to kill Nelson, and therefore did not have the requisite malice.
The matter proceeded to trial. Before submitting the matter to the jury, the
court instructed the jury on, among other things, the definition of malice
“Malice” is a state of mind which leads one to intentionally do
a wrongful act to the injury of another out of actual hatred, or with
an evil or unlawful purpose. It may be established by evidence of
actual hatred, or by proof of a deliberate or fixed intent to do injury.
It may be found from the acts and conduct of the defendant, and
the means used in doing the wrongful and injurious act. Malice
requires only such deliberation that would make a person
appreciate and understand the nature of the act and its
consequences, as distinguished from an act done in the heat of
“Malice aforethought” is a fixed purpose or design to do
some physical harm to another which exists before the act is
committed. It does not have to exist for any particular length of
The court denied Schmidt’s request that the following language be added to the
malice and malice aforethought definition instruction: “Although motive is not a
necessary element of murder, lack of motive may be considered in determining
whether the defendant acted with malice aforethought.”
After the matter was submitted to the jury, a juror took a tumble down the
courthouse stairs. Schmidt apparently witnessed the juror’s fall. Subsequently,
Schmidt’s counsel moved for a mistrial, asserting that because Schmidt saw the
juror, there was a question of whether any of the jurors saw Schmidt being
escorted by two armed guards. Schmidt’s counsel acknowledged that Schmidt
told him that he was not shackled at the time.
The district court overruled
Schmidt’s motion, stating: “My understanding was there was a brief amount of
time, and Mr. Schmidt was not in shackles, not in jail clothes. He was in street
clothes that he’s been wearing—the clothing he’s been wearing throughout the
The jury returned a verdict finding Schmidt guilty of first-degree murder.
Schmidt appeals. Schmidt contends the district court erred in failing to give his
proposed jury instruction on lack of motive and in denying his motion for a
II. Scope and Standards of Review.
We review alleged errors in jury instructions for errors at law. Iowa R.
App. P. 6.4; Boyle v. Alum-Line, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 741, 748 (Iowa 2006). We
review a trial court’s ruling on a motion for mistrial for abuse of discretion. State
v. Newell, 710 N.W.2d 6, 32 (Iowa 2006).
A. Jury Instruction.
Schmidt first argues that the district court erred in failing to give his
proposed jury instruction on lack of motive because the court’s instruction on the
definitions of malice and malice aforethought failed to communicate the need for
the jury to consider whether Schmidt had an unlawful and unjustified motive. We
“A person who kills another person with malice aforethought either
express or implied commits murder.” Iowa Code § 707.1 (2005). A person
commits murder in the first degree when the person commits murder willfully,
deliberately, and premeditatedly. Id. § 707.2. Thus, “[m]alice aforethought is an
essential element of first-degree murder.” State v. Bentley, 757 N.W.2d 257, 265
(Iowa 2008). However, motive is not an element of murder. See State v. Hoffer,
383 N.W.2d 543, 549 (Iowa 1986); State v. Lass, 228 N.W.2d 758, 765 (Iowa
1975). Nevertheless, “lack of motive may be considered in determining whether
an assailant acted with malice aforethought.”
Id. (citing State v. Smith, 242
N.W.2d 320, 326 (Iowa 1976)).
The Iowa Supreme Court has twice specifically held that it was not
reversible error to refuse to give an instruction on motive.
See id.; State v.
Shipley, 259 Iowa 952, 959, 146 N.W.2d 266, 270 (1966) (“We find no reversible
error in the trial court’s refusal to give defendant’s requested [lack of motive
instruction], especially in view of her being found guilty of manslaughter.”),
overruled in part on other grounds by State v. Bester, 167 N.W.2d 705 (Iowa
Schmidt asserts that Shipley is not controlling in the present case,
ultimately because the defendant in Shipley was convicted of the lesser-included
offense of manslaughter. See Shipley, 259 Iowa at 954, 958, 146 N.W.2d at 267,
269. However, Schmidt ignores the Iowa Supreme Court’s holding in Hoffer,
affirming its pronouncement in Shipley. See Hoffer, 383 N.W.2d at 549 (“[W]e
specifically held in [Shipley] that it was not reversible error to refuse to give an
instruction on motive.
We find no reason to reverse this authority.”).
Schmidt, the defendant in Hoffer was convicted of first-degree murder, and
ultimately the supreme court held it was not reversible error to refuse to give an
instruction on motive. Id. at 544. Thus, we find Hoffer is controlling here. As an
intermediate appellate court, we are bound by the precedents of our supreme
Accordingly, we are obliged to follow this law and decline Schmidt’s
request to overrule Shipley and Hoffer.
Additionally, Schmidt argues that his due process right to present his
theory of defense was violated by the court’s refusal to include the lack of motive
instruction. Although [t]he right to present a defense is essential to a fair trial,
State v. Simpson, 587 N.W.2d 770, 771 (Iowa 1998), the defendant is only
entitled to a theory of defense instruction if the instruction is timely requested and
supported by the evidence. State v. McFarland, 598 N.W.2d 318, 321 (Iowa Ct.
App. 1999). Moreover, “[t]he instructions should state the applicable rule of law,
and are not intended to marshal the evidence or give undue prominence to
certain evidence involved in the case.” State v. Johnson, 534 N.W.2d 118, 124
(Iowa Ct. App. 1995) (citing State v. Marsh, 392 N.W.2d 132, 133 (Iowa 1986)).
Here, the jury instructions given stated the applicable rule of law.
Additionally, there was not substantial evidence of a lack of motive. Schmidt
acknowledges that he was able to argue his theory of the defense to the jury in
closing argument. Consequently, we find no merit in Schmidt’s argument that his
due process right to present his theory of defense was violated by the court’s
refusal to include the lack of motive instruction.
We therefore conclude the
district court did not err in failing to give Schmidt’s proposed jury instruction on
lack of motive.
“A criminal defendant is presumed innocent until his guilt is established
beyond a reasonable doubt.
Thus, a defendant is entitled to the indicia of
innocence in the presence of the jury.” State v. Wilson, 406 N.W.2d 442, 448
(Iowa 1987) (citation omitted).
To that end, “[a] defendant is usually not
restrained in the courtroom in front of a jury in order to prevent the creation of
prejudice in the minds of jurors.” Id. at 449 (citation omitted). However, the
district court judge must balance a defendant’s fair trial demands with security
and safety. State v. Ellis, 350 N.W.2d 178, 183 (Iowa 1984) (citing State v. Kile,
313 N.W.2d 558, 562 (Iowa 1981)). In balancing these considerations, “it is
relevant to consider the length of time involved in the incident, the circumstances
under which the incident occurred, whether it occurred in the courtroom, and
whether the jury was otherwise aware the defendant was incarcerated.” Id.
In Ellis, several jurors observed the defendant manacled outside the
courtroom being led down the courthouse stairs as they followed behind. Id.
The defendant moved for a mistrial, and the district court denied the motion,
finding “that the exposure to the jurors was for a brief period of time and there
was no evidence the jury was prejudicially affected by the incident.” Id. The
defendant appealed, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. Id. The court noted
that the incident had not occurred in the courtroom and that the jurors only briefly
observed the defendant being led down the courthouse stairs as an officer was
preparing to remove him from the courthouse. Id. The court therefore concluded
that, under those circumstances, the district court did not abuse its discretion in
finding the defendant was not unfairly prejudiced by the incident and in overruling
the defendant’s motion. Id.
In the present case, Schmidt has offered no evidence that any of the
jurors saw him in the hallway. Furthermore, if Schmidt was seen, he was in
street clothes and was not shackled, and he would have only been briefly
observed in the presence of two officers outside of the courtroom. We conclude
the district court did not abuse its discretion overruling Schmidt’s motion for a
Because we conclude the district court did not err in failing to give
Schmidt’s proposed jury instruction on lack of motive and did not abuse its
discretion overruling Schmidt’s motion for a mistrial, we affirm Schmidt’s
conviction and sentence.