The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

August 22, 2013

Man loses bid for sentence correction in shooting case

Judge does give OK for Hebdon to seek post-conviction relief

By Katie Dahlstrom
Assistant Editor

CLINTON — The shooter in a 2009 DeWitt murder-for-hire case is seeking post-conviction relief, claiming his court-appointed attorney provided ineffective counsel leading up to his 2010 conviction.  

Nicholas J. Hebdon, 25, of DeWitt, in September 2010 entered guilty pleas to Class C felony charges of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit murder, pleas he now takes back.  

"The petitioner is not and has never been guilty of said crimes...and takes back his plea and requests correction of wrongful sentence and/or never verbally said he was guilty," Hebdon wrote in a petition filed earlier this month.

Hebdon was ordered to serve a mandatory minimum of five years on a 20-year prison term for the two charges.  

In a petition filed Aug. 12, Hebdon asked for his sentence to be corrected, the case to be opened and reviewed, a hearing to be held and new counsel appointed. Clinton County District Court Judge Gary McKenrick denied the motion to have Hebdon's sentence corrected because it falls into the category of post-conviction relief. In his decision issued the same day of Hebdon's petition, McKenrick ordered Hebdon be allowed to proceed with an action for post-conviction relief and appointed an attorney to represent him in the proceedings.  

In November 2009, Hebdon and 17-year-old Ryan Peters allegedly entered Gary Smith’s DeWitt home with orders to shoot and kill the man. Hebdon allegedly fired one shot at Smith, narrowly missing him.

Randalle Cross, Smith’s stepson, admitted in a court hearing the day prior to Hebdon's plea hearing that he had given Hebdon a .45-caliber handgun and offered to pay the shooter and Peters $5,000 each for the killing. Cross was ordered to serve up to 20 years in prison with a five-year minimum.  

As part of a March 2010 plea agreement, Peters agreed to testify at Cross and Hebdon’s trials if called as a witness, and agreed to provide prosecutors with a complete statement of his accomplices’ activity and the actions of any others involved in the shooting. Peters pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and was ordered to serve four years probation as part of a deferred judgement.    

The evidence in the case was all hearsay "where everyone was changing their stories and guilty of crimes themselves and trying to make a deal to get off their charges 'word against word' smoking gun," Hebdon wrote in his court petition.  

Beyond alleging his accomplices' testimonies were hearsay, Hebdon alleges he was convicted through an unlawful plea agreement. He claims his court-appointed defense attorney, Bruce Ingham, did not fight for his rights as not guilty.  

He claims Ingham acted in concert with County Attorney Mike Wolf to violate his rights. Further, Hebdon claims, Wolf tampered with and threatened witnesses when witnesses said Hebdon was innocent, changed their stories, were not reliable or were incompetent. Wolf also violated the speedy indictment when he failed to file trial information within 45 days of the arrest without showing a good cause, Hebdon contends.

Further, Hebdon calls his arrest, the search and seizure and evidence collection related to the case illegal.  

He also said the preliminary hearing was held without him, which he did not consent to. The media coverage of the case also made it impossible for him to have a fair trial, his petition states.