Public Safety

Can courts force a Cedar Rapids robbery defendant to take medication? A judge is set to decide.

Johnathan Mitchell's mental health issues have delayed proceedings in 2011 cabdriver robbery

Johnathan Mitchell talks with defense attorney Tyler Johnston during Mitchell’s trial on first-degree murder and first-degree robbery charges in October 2013 at the Story County Courthouse in Nevada, Iowa. Mitchell eventually was acquitted on both charges stemming from the April 2011 death of cabdriver Cathy Stickley in Cedar Rapids. He later was charged in federal court with one count of robbery affecting commerce in the Stickley case. He has yet to go to trial on that charge because of ongoing competency issues. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Johnathan Mitchell talks with defense attorney Tyler Johnston during Mitchell’s trial on first-degree murder and first-degree robbery charges in October 2013 at the Story County Courthouse in Nevada, Iowa. Mitchell eventually was acquitted on both charges stemming from the April 2011 death of cabdriver Cathy Stickley in Cedar Rapids. He later was charged in federal court with one count of robbery affecting commerce in the Stickley case. He has yet to go to trial on that charge because of ongoing competency issues. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Background

Almost four years later and a Cedar Rapids man still hasn’t made it to trial in the robbery of a cabdriver, who was fatally stabbed the same night in 2011.

Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell, 41, was indicted April 26, 2016, in U.S. District Court on one count of robbery affecting commerce. The indictment shows Mitchell 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 charged in state court with first-degree murder in Stickley’s death and first-degree robbery, but he was acquitted on both charges by a Story County jury in 2013. The trial was moved from Linn County because of pretrial publicity.

According to testimony in the 2013 trial, 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 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.

Mitchell was out on bond pending trial on a 2010 assault charge when Stickley was killed. Mitchell was the only suspect in the fatal stabbing, and the case hasn’t been reopened.

After his acquittal on the murder charge, 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. But he was paroled in August 2014, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.

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

What’s happened since

The delays in the federal case have stemmed from Mitchell’s mental health issues, according to court documents. In October 2016, Mitchell was found incompetent to stand trial. A judge suspended further proceedings until September 2017, when he was restored to competency.

According to law, people are found incompetent to stand trial if they do not understand the nature and consequences of the charged crime and are not able to assist a lawyer in a defense. All court proceedings are suspended until the defendant receives treatment and is found to be competent.

In January 2018, Mitchell’s lawyer asked for another delay, urging the court to send Mitchell to another evaluation to determine his competency. His trial again was indefinitely suspended.

Nearly seven months later, the defense asked a judge to dismiss the charge because it’s double jeopardy — meaning Mitchell already was tried for the same crime in state court.

Prosecutors argued the federal government has separate laws from the states, and the double jeopardy clause doesn’t prohibit separate prosecutions in different courts, according to court documents.

U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Kelly Mahoney agreed, ruling Mitchell can be charged in federal court for this crime.

After that ruling, there were fewer filings in the case until October 2018, when prosecutors requested a “Sell” hearing to force Mitchell to take antipsychotic medication to maintain competency for trial, according to court documents.

Guy Cook, an attorney with Grefe and Sidney in Des Moines who handles state and federal cases, said these hearings are rare and require substantial proof. Four elements have to be met:

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• An important government interest is at stake — such as bringing a serious crime to trial.

• Medication likely will make the defendant competent and won’t negatively affect the defendant’s ability to assist in defense.

• Less intrusive treatments aren’t likely to achieve the same results.

• Giving the drug is medically warranted and in the defendant’s best interest.

Cook said a defendant can present rebuttal expert testimony against the prosecution’s experts who claim forced medication is appropriate.

“The key issue is whether the defendant’s due process constitutional rights are not violated,” Cook added.

No local attorneys could remember there being a hearing in this district regarding involuntary medication.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Berry declined to comment because the case is pending. The majority of the hearing wasn’t open to the public, but a portion of the transcript was filed and obtained by The Gazette.

Dr. Dean Cutillar, senior clinical specialist with the Federal Medical Center that is part of the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, N.C., testified about Mitchell’s mental health and needed treatment, but details of the doctor’s testimony weren’t included in the unsealed transcript.

After Cutillar testified, Judge Mahoney asked Mitchell’s lawyer, Christopher Nathan, and Berry if they knew what “triggered” Mitchell’s noncompliance with taking the prescribed medication.

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She asked if it was “antisocial personality disorder,” the stress of transport to and from Cedar Rapids to the prison in Butner, or because he hasn’t been given the medication.

Mahoney also mentioned Cutillar said it would take one or two months before Mitchell would be restored if he continued to comply and take his prescribed medications.

Berry, in the transcript, said he and Nathan would determine what information they could provide the court about how long the possible treatment might take, if the court finds involuntary medication is warranted.

Those additional documents filed by the defense and prosecution likely will be sealed. Mahoney, according to the transcript, hasn’t made a ruling at this time.

If convicted, Mitchell faces up to 20 years in prison.

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

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