In a narrow 4-3 ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court on Friday overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a Marion man who authorities say stabbed his former girlfriend 26 times and concealed her body in a roll of carpet for four days.
The court ruled that Gregory Davis, 30, who had claimed insanity or diminished responsibility, will receive a new trial because the trial judge didn’t give an instruction to the jury for the insanity defense with the first-degree murder charge, but the instruction was included with lesser charges jurors could consider also.
The error allowed the jury to wrongly conclude that the insanity defense didn’t apply to first-degree murder, according to the court ruling.
Davis’ defense attorney provided ineffective assistance when he failed to object to 6th Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland’s decision to leave out that instruction, the ruling states.
“This error undermines our confidence in the verdict,” said Associate Justice Thomas Waterman, in writing for the majority.
The Iowa Court of Appeals had upheld he conviction in April, ruling the court would encourage trial courts to include the reference to the insanity defense with the murder charge in the instructions, but Davis hasn’t shown the outcome would be any different even with the instruction.
Associate Justice Christopher McDonald, joined by Dana Oxley and Edward Mansfield in a dissent, said there was no doubt the defense presented an insanity defense to the charge of first-degree murder, which the jury rejected.
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The Linn County jury deliberated about two hours before returning a verdict, according to court records.
McDonald, in the dissent, includes portions of the defense’s opening statement and closing argument to show jurors were aware that they could consider insanity.
Brian Sissel, Linn County chief public defender, in his opening statement, said Davis thought he was the devil and also Jesus, according to the ruling.
“I thought she was going to be resurrected and saved,” Davis told authorities, according to the ruling. “I wrapped her body like they did Christ. Voices in my head told me I was doing the right thing.”
McDonald said in Sissel’s closing, he told jurors the only way they could convict Davis of first-degree murder is if they didn’t believe experts who had testified about Davis’ mental health.
Sissel also said in the closing if jurors believed the experts, then the verdict should be second-degree murder or not guilty by reason of insanity.
According to trial testimony, Davis stabbed Carrie Davis, 29, on Sept. 28, 2017, in the Marion home they shared. Davis then attempted to conceal her body in a roll of carpet, which authorities found Oct. 2 on a utility trailer parked outside of his parents’ vacant rental house in Marion.
The former couple shared a common last name but were not married or related, according to testimony.
During closing arguments, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden told jurors this was first-degree murder because Davis had made a conscious decision to use a weapon.
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“He had time to think about what he was going to do with the weapon,” Vander Sanden said. “His mind telling his arm and hand to bring that weapon down on Carrie.”
Vander Sanden asked the jury to consider Davis’ actions after her death. He made the rational decision to conceal the crime. Davis even contemplated suicide and left a signed confession.
“I stabbed Carrie Davis in a vicious attack four days ago when I was on drugs and was possessed by the devil,” Davis said in the note, according to testimony. “She is in the trailer. She was the love of my life.”
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