A Clinton County jury has found a Clinton man guilty of two charges in connection with the Sept. 9 stabbing of another man as the two fought near the defendant’s parents’ home.
After deliberating almost six hours, the five-woman, seven-man jury Thursday afternoon decided 22-year-old Brandon Zmuda was not guilty of attempted murder but did convict him of the lesser-included offense of assault with intent to commit serious injury as well as willful injury causing serious injury.
The first offense, an aggravated misdemeanor, could mean a sentence of up to two years in prison; the second carries a mandatory sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Under Iowa law, a judge does not have sentencing discretion for the willful injury charge, which is a forcible felony, and must order the 10-year sentence. The jury also was asked a special question that it had to fill out along with the 11 verdict forms it was given at the start of deliberations. That question asked jurors if they believed Zmuda was armed with a dangerous weapon at the time of the offense. The jury answered “yes,” which will lead to a five-year sentencing enhancement that was sought by Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf on the willful injury charge.
Zmuda will be formally sentenced at 1:30 p.m. March 31 in Clinton County District Court.
The jury returned its verdict four days into the trial that began Monday and during which Zmuda faced a charge of attempted murder, a Class B felony that carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years, and a Class C willful injury charge.
Those charges stemmed from the Sept. 9 fight in which David Specht was stabbed nine times – three times in the front of his body and six times in the back – as the two fought immediately after Zmuda and his father heard Specht break out a window on Zmuda’s Blazer around 3:30 a.m.
Specht sought to damage the vehicle in retaliation for a broken window at his girlfriend’s home just a few blocks away – a window that he believed had been broken with a rock thrown by Zmuda, who had been friends with Specht up until a few weeks before the fight.
The jury was faced with two different scenarios.
The prosecution believed that Zmuda had an ax to grind with Specht over the girlfriend, who previously had a relationship with Zmuda.
Wolf during the trial brought witnesses to the stand who stated Zmuda had been out at a friend’s house, about a five-minute walk from his parents’ home at 1018 S. Eighth Street where he was staying, until about 3 that morning. Wolf said Zmuda went past the house where Specht and girlfriend Emily Huizenga were living, at 838 11th Ave. South, and threw a rock at a house window, shattering the glass. Wolf said Zmuda then went home.
Specht then walked over to the Zmuda home with a two-by-four wooden board and hit the passenger side window of Zmuda’s Blazer. That brought Zmuda outside and the two tussled. Wolf believes Zmuda brought a knife with him and used it to stab Specht, who he said was there only to damage the vehicle, not have a physical altercation with Zmuda. He said Specht was trying to get away from Zmuda, but Zmuda kept chasing him.
One issue Wolf had to explain to the jury was that no weapon had been recovered.
There was a knife at the scene, but Wolf maintained the knife was actually Specht’s and that it was later found in an area near where Specht’s wallet had fallen out and where Specht had to retrieve his pants that had fallen off during the fight. That knife, which Wolf said he believed was not used by Zmuda, was sent for testing at the state crime lab and results found neither fingerprints nor blood on the knife.
Wolf told the jury he believed Zmuda had a knife on him and used it to stab Specht then later hid the knife, possibly with the help of his family.
But defense attorney Bruce Ingham said that scenario just didn’t make sense.
During testimony, Ingham questioned Brandon Zmuda’s father, David, who said he and his son were watching TV on the home’s first floor when they heard a loud bang outside. The took off out the front door to see what was going on. Meanwhile, David’s wife and Brandon’s mother Maryellen, grabbed her cell phone and stepped outside just as the front door was closing. She called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher what was happening as she watched her son and Specht fight. David Zmuda was close behind his son throughout the incident as well. Both she and her husband testified that Specht hit Brandon in the head with the wooden board; Brandon Zmuda also told his father that Specht had a knife, David Zmuda testified.
As the fight continued, David Zmuda said, he pulled his son off Specht and said he needed to stop fighting, to leave it to the police who were arriving. Specht then started back toward his home. Police a few minutes later were called to that address and found Specht on the steps, bleeding profusely.
Zmuda family members testified they went back to the house to talk to police, who were there for a few minutes and then were summoned for the stabbing call a few blocks away. The family said they were told to go into the house and sit down until the police came back. Maryellen said the family sat down at the kitchen table and David and Brandon each smoked a cigarette. As they finished, the police arrived, the family said during testimony.
Family members said they willingly allowed police to search their home, take them to the police station for questioning and then allowed police to search the yard. No part of the house was off limits, they testified.
In his closing arguments, Ingham said Wolf was trying to make the jury believe the Zmudas hid the knife while officers were gone or when police were not watching them, something that Clinton Police Officer Tony Stone said could have been for as long as 20 minutes once those officers arrived at the Zmuda home a second time, which they did after realizing the two cases may be connected.
But Ingham was emphatic that the actual weapon was the knife Specht brought with him.
As for who inflicted the wounds, Ingham said no one, probably not even Specht or Zmuda, knows for sure, since they were fighting in an “octopus wrestling match.” He said the knife may have been free of fingerprints and blood due to weather conditions.
While Ingham said he felt bad for Specht, the jury had to remember it was Specht who showed up with the wooden board and a knife. He pointed out the Zmudas were cooperative with police and that they were left alone by police -- they did not force police officers away from them.
He said if Zmuda had brought his own knife to the fight and tried to hide it, the Clinton Police Department would have found it.