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Man serving life for two murders wants new trial

Jonathan Memmer gives testimony during a hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse on Wednesday, May 5, 2010, in Iowa City. Memmer is serving two life sentences for the murders of Laura Watson-Dalton and Maria Lehner in 1999. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Jonathan Memmer gives testimony during a hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse on Wednesday, May 5, 2010, in Iowa City. Memmer is serving two life sentences for the murders of Laura Watson-Dalton and Maria Lehner in 1999. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Jonathan Memmer, who is serving two life sentences for murdering two women in 1999, made his last appeal for a new trial Wednesday, claiming his attorneys were ineffective in a civil non-jury trial for post conviction relief in Johnson County District Court.

One of his attorneys Clemens Erdahl took the stand and said most of what Memmer disagreed with was just Erdahlís strategy of defense in 2001.

Memmer, 34, formerly of Marshalltown, was convicted in 2001 for the brutal murders of Maria Lehner, 27, of Belton, Mo., and Laura Watson-Dalton, 29, of Creston. Memmer met the women separately at Iowa City bars in March 1999 and took them to an unoccupied Iowa City apartment and bludgeoned them to death. Their bodies were found after a fire in the apartment on March 19. Both women died from blunt force head injuries.

Memmer, after exhausting the appeals process, filed his relief petition in 2004, claiming his attorneys, Erdahl and Mark Brown, of Cedar Rapids, failed on several grounds including to object to drug related testimony, to object to specific jury instructions and to object to blood evidence. The petition took awhile to get to court because Memmer went through several attorneys.

Memmer is asking the court to vacate the convictions and give him a new trial.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Nancy Baumgartner didnít make a ruling today. The attorneys will have two weeks to file briefs. She indicated it could take several weeks.

Memmer testified his attorneys didnít follow a strategy they laid out concerning certain evidence like blood evidence found on his shoe. His attorneys told him they needed to attack the blood evidence because without that evidence the state couldnít have brought him to trial, but they didnít object to evidence of Lehnerís blood found on his shoe or address the fact that the Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab failed an accreditation at this time.

Erdahl testified he lined up a DNA expert, Dr. Peter De Forest, to look into the possibility of cross contamination of the blood evidence. When the crime lab first examined Memmerís shoe a criminalist didnít see the stain but another one did when the shoe was sent back for footprint analysis.

Erdahl said De Forest thought the lab did a good job on the blood analysis and didnít question the results. De Forest went to the crime lab to check it out because it had received a failed accreditation report but he discovered the lab was better than he had expected.

There was no reason for another expert to test the blood evidence, Erdahl said. He didnít put De Forest on the stand because he didnít want the state to find out De Forestís opinion.

The evidence of the failed accreditation wasnít brought into evidence because the lab had remedied most of the issues by the time of the trial.

On cross examination, Memmer admitted that he never asked for new attorneys and was able to offer suggestions to his attorneys.

Memmer also cited there was no objection made to evidence of his drug activities but Erdahl said he allowed that evidence because it explained how Memmer was involved with Dalton.

The prosecution at trial said Memmer met Dalton when he sold her marijuana that night.

Memmer in his brief questioned why Erdahl didnít object to the prosecution at trial asking Robert Griffin about Memmerís tattoos underneath his right eye Ė two teardrops. Griffin testified in his corrections system experience that someone gets one after theyíve killed a person.

Erdahl said he agreed with Griffinís statement. In his experience they mean a person has killed someone. The tattoos were a ďblow to the defenseĒ because they didnít appear on Memmerís face until after he was charged with murder. He didnít have them before. Erdahl said he thought he got them in jail.Memmer testified earlier that he got one of the drops years before in Tama after his good friend was killed in a car wreck and the other drop later when another friend committed suicide.

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