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Howard Paul Garrison v. Jerry Burt

March 8, 2011


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

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Riley, Chief Judge.

Submitted: November 18, 2010

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, MELLOY and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

Howard Garrison appeals the district court's*fn1 denial of habeas relief from his Iowa convictions for two counts of first-degree murder. Garrison argues (1) his retrial violated double jeopardy, (2) prosecutorial misconduct denied his due process right to a fair trial, and (3) his convictions violated due process because the evidence was insufficient to prove he killed the victims. We affirm the district court's denial of Garrison's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition.


A. Factual Background

On October 24, 2002, the bodies of John Caswell, Jr. and Steven Emerson were discovered at Caswell's farm outside of Knoxville, Iowa. Drug activity, including the manufacture, sale, and use of methamphetamine, occurred at the farm before the murders. Garrison was a regular visitor to the farm and witnesses testified to seeing him there on the day of the murders.

Police investigated and determined ballistic and other evidence linked Garrison to the murders. In particular, investigators found one spent .22 shell casing lodged in the vent on the hood of Garrison's car matching other shell casings found at the murder scene. Police arrested Garrison and placed him in the Marion County Jail. According to state witness Brian Martin, an inmate at the Marion County Jail, Garrison confessed to Martin that he killed Caswell and Emerson in a dispute involving drugs.

B. First State Trial

The State of Iowa (state) charged Garrison with two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Caswell and Emerson. The case proceeded to trial in November 2003. Garrison moved in limine to suppress evidence showing Garrison used, shared, or sold Oxycontin, arguing such evidence was speculation, improper opinion evidence and highly prejudicial. The state argued the evidence was necessary in order to establish motive and that Martin and Garrison had a prior relationship, which was probative as to why Garrison confided in Martin. The trial court agreed with the prosecutor and allowed the evidence. During direct examination, however, Martin testified he knew Garrison "through other people" and had not known Garrison personally until they were in jail together. Garrison moved for a mistrial, alleging the prosecutor "knew or was negligent or intentionally misrepresented what [Martin] was going to testify to" in order to get the Oxycontin evidence before the jury. The district court denied Garrison's motion for a mistrial but issued a limiting instruction to the jury.

Garrison appealed. Finding the trial court abused its discretion in not declaring a mistrial because the references to Oxycontin were irrelevant and presumptively prejudicial, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed Garrison's convictions and remanded for a new trial. See State v. Garrison (Garrison I), No. 04-0141, 2006 WL 138280, at *11, *19 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 19, 2006) (unpub. table disp.).

C. Second State Trial

On remand, Garrison moved to dismiss the trial information, arguing the prosecutor "intentionally engaged in conduct . . . designed to force Garrison to move for a mistrial" by gaining admission of Martin's Oxycontin testimony. The trial court denied Garrison's motion, concluding the prosecutor's mistake was unintentional and not intended to force a mistrial. The court reasoned "[o]nce it became apparent [Garrison] and Martin did not have a prior relationship, the State dropped the issue[,] did not mention it during its closing argument[,]" and did not object when Garrison requested a limiting instruction.

Garrison's second trial commenced in October 2006. The parties agreed to avoid references to the first trial. During direct examination, Medical Examiner Marvin Van Haaften testified about his examination of the victims' bodies and his estimation of the victims' times of death. Garrison attempted to impeach Van Haaften's testimony by pointing out inconsistencies in the times underlying Van Haaften's estimations. In an apparent effort to rehabilitate Van Haaften's testimony, the prosecutor asked, "This wasn't the first time you came into court today to determine a time of death in this case, is that correct?" Garrison immediately objected and demanded a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct. The trial court found the question "dangerously close to a reference to a first trial," but denied Garrison's motion. The court did, however, strike the question, sanction the prosecutor by barring him from asking any further questions of Van Haaften, and ...

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