Public Safety

Another trial delay for Iowa City man charged with killing his wife in 2019

Judge allows Roy Browning's defense to get independent forensic testing of evidence

Roy Browning Jr.
Roy Browning Jr.
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IOWA CITY — JoEllen Browning was about to find out about her husband’s risky high-interest loans, the manipulation of the couple’s savings account and his falsified banking records, but she never had the chance to see those records on April 5, 2019.

Jo Ellen Browning, 65, a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics budget executive, emailed her husband, Roy Browning Jr., 68, on April 1, asking about the discrepancies in their bank accounts, according to court documents. She told her husband to contact their bank to ensure he could log into their account so the couple could review the accounts that night.

Investigators found a text message from JoEllen Browning to her husband that showed they were to have a meeting with their financial institution at 8 a.m. April 5 — an hour after she was found dead, a search warrant affidavit said.

Authorities said about 20 minutes after Roy Browning responded to his wife that he was aware of the meeting, he was at a paint supply store buying rubber gloves and towels, which police would later say they never found.

Police received a 911 call from Roy Browning at 6:59 a.m. April 5, reporting his wife was “unresponsive.”

Police found her on the bedroom floor with multiple stab wounds to her front and back torso and on her left hand, according to court documents. A forensic pathologist determined the cause of death was “sharp-force injuries” — stab wounds — and her death was ruled a homicide.

There were no signs of a break-in, court documents said. Blood was found in the couple’s master bedroom and in the shower. Blood also was found on the right hand fingernail clippings of JoEllen. A blood analysis showed it had come from her and her husband.

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“The probability of finding (Roy Browning’s) profile in a population of unrelated individuals, chosen at random, would be less than 1 out of 310 trillion,” according to the affidavit.

Investigators also found JoEllen’s blood on the front storm door handle of the house, court documents said.

During the investigation, authorities found JoEllen had a retirement account and life insurance policy worth over $2 million, according to court documents. Her husband had no source of income, and there was evidence he was making financial transactions without her knowledge.

Investigators found photos of “apparent banking records” at the home. But when compared with known records, they found “numerous discrepancies” between the documents, including a non-existent account in the photographed record.

One of the couple’s accounts showed a balance of $97,830 on Dec. 31, 2018. However, records provided by the couple’s financial institution showed the actual balance was only $88.76, court documents said.

Further review of the bank account showed the money was removed from a joint account and moved into the sole account of Roy Browning.

He also took out separate loans for $4,000 each — with an interest rate of 304.17 percent — on four occasions from a title and loan company in the Illinois area. Browning told the company not to tell his wife about the loan, authorities said.

Investigators said he purchased rubber-palmed gloves and a package of six white towels. He also was given eight to 10 latex gloves, according to court documents. Investigators searched the Browning home, vehicles and other locations but never recovered those items.

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Court documents said a representative from the Brownings’ financial institution “was prepared to tell JoEllen ... that one of their savings accounts was depleted and Roy had taken out loans of which JoEllen was not aware.”

Credit card records also showed that a credit card in JoEllen’s name had a balance of $17,644, according to the March 7-April 6 statement. The next month’s statement showed the balance was paid off through Roy’s individual checking account.

Roy Browning continued to use the credit card after his wife’s funeral April 11, authorities said.

Roy Browning was arrested in October 2019, almost seven months after his wife’s death, and charged with first-degree murder.

At the time, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Rahn said he couldn’t disclose how Roy Browning was spending the diverted money.

What has happened since

The trial originally set for March 2020 was reset once because the defense needed more time to prepare and another time because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last November, the Iowa Supreme Court delayed all trials until this month.

Leon Spies, Roy Browning’s lawyer, filed a motion last week asking the court to order the Iowa City Police Department to release evidence so the defense can conduct independent forensic testing at Browning’s expense.

Prosecutors didn’t resist, and 6th Judicial District Judge Kevin McKeever granted the request last Tuesday.

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This likely will create a further delay because the items will have to be sent for testing and then returned to police custody before a trial begins.

Roy Browning remains in jail under a $5 million bail. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Investigators’ timeline of JoEllen Browning’s death

• April 1, 2019, 12:01 p.m.: JoEllen Browning emails Roy Browning Jr. to ask about discrepancies in their bank accounts.

• April 4, 2019, 1:17 p.m.: JoEllen texts Roy to tell him they have a meeting scheduled with their financial institution at 8 a.m. April 5.

• April 4, 2019, 1:33 p.m.: Roy responds “Yes” via text to JoEllen, indicating he was aware of the meeting.

• April 4, 2019, 1:51 p.m.: Roy purchases rubber palmed nitrile gloves and a package of six white towels from a paint supply store. The items purchased are never recovered by police.

• April 5, 2019, 6:59 a.m.: Roy calls 911 and reports finding his wife unresponsive. First responders find her dead in the couple’s bathroom floor.

• April 5, 2019, 8 a.m.: The meeting with the Brownings and their financial institution never takes place. A representative from the financial institution later tells investigators they were prepared to tell JoEllen that one of their savings accounts was depleted, Roy had taken out loans and an account JoEllen thought was active never existed.

Source: Court records

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