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Christenson v. Ault

March 23, 2010

CORD R. CHRISTENSON, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN R. AULT, II, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lange, District Judge.

Submitted: January 15, 2010

Before GRUENDER and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and LANGE*fn1, District Judge.

Cord R. Christenson ("Christenson") appeals the holding of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa,*fn2 which denied his application for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the grounds that (1) he did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel declined to present evidence based on certain crime scene photographs, and (2) his claims under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 873 (1963), were procedurally barred. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. Factual Background

On August 28, 1998, a jury found Christenson guilty of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary, and second-degree sexual abuse, in violation of Iowa Code §§ 710.1, 710.2, 713.1, 709.1, and 709.3, in connection with the rape and abduction of Rebecca Lyons on February 4, 1998, in Des Moines, Iowa. The Iowa district court sentenced Christenson to life in prison on the kidnapping charge and to a period not to exceed 25 years on the burglary and sexual abuse charges, with the sentences running concurrently.

During the trial, the State of Iowa presented overwhelming evidence of guilt. Christenson and Lyons had a short-term relationship beginning in the summer of 1995, which Lyons chose not to continue. In mid-September 1996, Christenson broke into Lyons' home in Des Moines, Iowa and Lyons awoke to find Christenson's arm around her neck in a choke hold. Lyons eventually defused that episode by calming Christenson down and calling police. Following the incident, Christenson pled guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree burglary. The court entered an order against Christenson barring him from further contact with Lyons.

On February 4, 1998, Christenson violated the protective order by again breaking into Lyons' home while she was away. When Lyons returned, Christenson put her in a headlock and zapped her multiple times with a stun gun around her neck and left hip. He later brandished a knife, bound her left wrist to his right wrist with plastic zip-ties, and raped her. Lyons testified that after Christenson removed the zip-ties, Lyons attempted to subdue him with pepper spray and mace, which led to an altercation in which a chair was broken. Christenson then commanded Lyons to drive him to Mexico so that he could evade outstanding warrants in the United States. He instructed Lyons to remove her child from school and to bring the child along for the ride. Christenson had Lyons drive him to Kansas City, Missouri, to board a Greyhound bus. Once free of Christenson, Lyons drove back to Des Moines with her child and reported the incident to police.

The State also introduced evidence of the injuries Lyons sustained during Christenson's attack. Injuries included a bruise on her wrist from the zip-tie, bruises on her left buttock and right hip and a scratch on her forearm from the altercation after she had sprayed Christenson with mace, and marks on her neck and left hip from the stun gun.

On direct appeal, the convictions for first-degree kidnapping and first-degree burglary were affirmed, while the conviction for second-degree sexual abuse was vacated because it should have been merged with the kidnapping conviction. The Iowa Supreme Court denied Christenson's application for further review on August 3, 2000.

On August 1, 2001, Christenson filed a pro se application for post-conviction relief ("PCR") in state court. Counsel was appointed, an evidentiary hearing was held, and on June 14, 2004 the PCR court denied his application. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the PCR ruling on July 13, 2005. Christenson sought review before the Iowa Supreme Court, which was denied.

Christenson then filed a timely Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on October 19, 2005. In the habeas action, Christenson for the first time claimed under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 873 (1963), that the State violated his due process rights by failing to timely disclose exculpatory evidence relating to the victim's telephone lines. At trial, the State presented evidence suggesting that Christenson cut or disconnected the victim's phone lines prior to kidnapping her. The victim testified that before she was attacked by Christenson, she attempted to place a phone call to her sister, but she could not receive a dial tone on her home telephones. In his testimony, Christenson denied cutting the victim's phone lines.

Several months after trial, Christenson's sister purchased a complete set of photographs pertaining to the prosecution, including photographs taken by Des Moines police technician Lynn Sprafka of the victim's basement telephone line. Christenson contends that the photographs show the telephone line to be disconnected at the time Sprafka was in the basement, suggesting they had been tampered with by the victim prior to another photographing officer's arrival.

The district court, adopting the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, denied and dismissed Christenson's petition. ...


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