Public Safety

Man charged in 2011 killing and robbery of Cedar Rapids cabdriver is appealing court order to give him antipsychotic medication

He faces federal robbery charge in connection with that crime

Johnathan Mitchell listens to testimony in a Story County Courtroom during his Oct. 10, 2013, first-degree murder trial
Johnathan Mitchell listens to testimony in a Story County Courtroom during his Oct. 10, 2013, first-degree murder trial in Nevada, iowa. The jury found him not guilty of fatally stabbing a Cedar Rapids cab driver. He is in prison on other charges and faces a federal charge of robbery affecting commerce related to robbing the cab driver. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man charged in a 2011 fatal robbery of a cabdriver is appealing a federal judge’s order he be given involuntary antipsychotic medication to maintain his competency so he can stand trial.

Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell, 42, asked U.S. District Chief Judge Leonard Strand to stay — temporarily hold — the medication order pending an appeal he filed this week with the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Strand, in his order, said it’s common for courts to delay involuntary medication orders during appeals because any “harm caused by the medication cannot be undone.” Ordering involuntary medication, he stated, can “implicate and entwine defendants’ health and constitutional” rights.

A joint filing by defense and prosecution lawyers outlines Mitchell’s struggle with maintaining his competency since 2016 and being sent for treatment to restore his competency, which he has fought against over the years. Most of this information hasn’t been in public records until now.

The Gazette reported in 2019 that proceedings in Mitchell’s case — he was indicted in April 2016 in U.S. District Court for one count of robbery affecting commerce — was on hold pending his competency to stand trial.

At that time, federal prosecutors asked a judge to determine whether involuntary medication for Mitchell was appropriate because he periodically refused to take antipsychotic medications prescribed by doctors to him in prison.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Mahoney in October 2019 ruled against giving Mitchell, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and anti-social personality disorder, the medication, stating the prosecution failed to show it was necessary The judge instead found Mitchell should continue to be committed for competency restoration treatment through December 2019.

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According to law, defendants are incompetent to stand trial if they do not understand the nature and consequences of the charged crime and are unable to assist a lawyer in their defense. All court proceedings will be suspended until a defendant receives treatment and is restored to competency.

Mitchell was sent for a competency evaluation, but last April a psychiatrist reported he couldn’t say with any “degree of certainty” if Mitchell had mental disorder making him incompetent to stand trial, according to the motion.

Mitchell refused to participate and complete the competency evaluation. It was recommended Mitchell should have further evaluation and treatment as part of competency restoration procedures.

Last September, two other medical professionals issued a report finding Mitchell competent but said the opinion was contingent on his “continued, consistent compliance with his current medication regimen,” the motion stated.

Mitchell’s warden issued a certificate of restoration of competency, but, the next month, prosecutors renewed their motion, asking for Mitchell to receive involuntary medication.

Last November, a doctor testified, during a hearing on the prosecution’s motion, about a plan he prepared to medicate Mitchell with three antipsychotic medications, and Mahoney issued her recommendation for the medication and Strand approved it.

Mitchell then filed his notice to appeal the decision.

The defense and prosecution asked the appeals court for an expedited briefing and oral argument schedule because of Mitchell’s history of “cycling from competent to incompetent.”

The court granted the expedited appeal Wednesday and set oral arguments in the case for the week of April 12.

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The indictment in Mitchell’s case states he obstructed commerce — a cab company service — by “violently robbing” Catherine “Cathy” Stickley, 54, who was driving a Century Cab on April 29, 2011.

Mitchell was first charged in Linn County District Court with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery but was acquitted by a Story County jury in 2013 after his trial was moved because of pretrial publicity.

Stickley was stabbed 18 times in the neck and head, and Mitchell’s prints were found in Stickley’s blood in the cab. The prosecution argued Mitchell needed money for crack cocaine and killed Stickley to get it.

Mitchell, during the trial, testified that he stole money from Stickley to buy crack cocaine but that she already was dead, lying outside the cab on the ground in the 1500 block alley between Second and Third avenues SE in Cedar Rapids.

After his acquittal, Mitchell was convicted and sentenced to seven years in January 2014 for the 2010 assault of Arvin Druvenga, as well as a forgery charge in Linn County. He was paroled in August 2014, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.

Federal prosecutors charged Mitchell with robbery in 2015 when he was serving a five-year sentence for a separate case of forgery.

If convicted in the federal case, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

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

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