The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 25, 2013

Court denies murder appeal

By Scott Levine
Associate Editor

DES MOINES — A state appeals court has denied a Clinton man’s appeal to overturn his first-degree murder conviction.

The Iowa Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed a Clinton County jury’s decision to convict Jason Tate of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon. Tate was found guilty in October 2011 in the shooting death of Kelsey Stahl.

During the murder trial, Tate admitted on the witness stand that he shot Stahl. Tate’s appeal contended that there was insufficient evidence to support the first-degree murder conviction and the court erred in admitting evidence of prior bad acts.

Also, Tate argued in his appeal, and on the witness stand during the trial, that the shooting was accidental. He said the court should not have admitted certain evidence about Stahl.

His appeal also raised issues regarding ineffective assistance from counsel.

Ineffective assistance

Tate argued the court should not have admitted evidence of prior bad acts, including a verbal altercation and bruising on Stahl in the months leading up to her death.  

The appeals court ruled that since Tate waived any alleged error, the admission of prior bad acts would stand or fall on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

Tate’s attorney did not object to Phyllis Pickens’ testimony during the trial regarding a verbal altercation between Tate and Stahl. In his appeal, Tate said this should have been objected to, but the appeals court ruled in favor of the counsel based on the exchange being evidence of an emotionally charged relationship.

Tate also said counsel erred in failing to object to testimony that Stahl changed her behavior when Tate moved in with her. Once again, the appeals court ruled in favor of the counsel, saying the testimony of Stahl’s changed behavior outweighed the danger of unfair prejudice.

Lastly, Tate said his counsel did not object to testimony from three witnesses about bruising on Stahl in the months leading up to her death.

However, the counsel cross-examined the witnesses, eliciting responses from each witness that denied Stahl said Tate caused the bruising. Because of the counsel’s cross-examination, the appeals court again sided with the counsel.

Sufficiency of the evidence

Tate contended the evidence was insufficient to show he acted with malice aforethought, deliberation and premeditation.

The appeals court ruled against Tate, saying the evidence was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Tate willfully and deliberately shot Stahl with premeditation and malice aforethought.