On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
On June 24, 2009, Mark Becker shot and killed Edward Thomas in
a temporary high school weight room in Parkersburg, Iowa, in front of numerous high school students participating in summer workouts. Becker was charged with the crime of murder in the first degree. Becker provided notice that he would be relying on the defense of insanity to the charge. The jury rejected the insanity defense and found Becker guilty of first-degree murder. Following the guilty verdict, the district court sentenced Becker to life in prison without the possibility of parole and ordered him to pay restitution to the victim’s estate. He was also ordered to pay restitution for his attorney and expert witness fees. Becker has appealed his conviction and the imposition of expert witness fees. Becker claims the jury was improperly instructed on the insanity defense and that the jury should have been instructed regarding the consequences of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Becker sought further review, which was granted:
Becker grew up in Parkersburg, Iowa, where he went to the local high school and even participated in the football program with Ed Thomas as his coach. He then attended Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, for one semester before returning to live at home with his parents in 2008. In September, his parents awoke one night to Becker yelling. He was swearing at his parents and was acting very violently. At one point, he began hitting the basement walls with a baseball bat. He was committed to a psychiatric unit the next day.
Over the next month, Becker began to have more frequent violent episodes. In November, he was arrested for an assault. His mother picked him up from jail, and on the way home, he began swearing at her and hit her while she was driving, breaking her glasses. When she attempted to call her husband, he grabbed her cell phone and broke it in half. As a result, Becker was again committed and spent another week in the hospital. Following his discharge, Becker’s parents rented a room for him in Waterloo.
On June 20, Becker knocked at the front door of the residence of Dwight Rogers, a Cedar Falls resident. Though Rogers did not know Becker, Becker asked for Rogers by name. When Rogers asked Becker who he was, Becker responded, “[Y]ou know who the F I am.” Rogers said he did not have a good feeling about the situation, so he closed the door and told his wife to call 911. He reopened the door and saw Becker approaching with a baseball bat. He closed the door again and was attempting to get Becker’s license plate number when Becker swung the bat at Rogers’s front door, breaking the storm door. The two struggled over the door, but Rogers was able to close it. Becker then broke a picture window and a garage door window before attempting to drive his car through the garage door. Becker left once law enforcement sirens became audible. He then led law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase that ended when he hit a deer. Arrested and taken in for psychiatric evaluation, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
On June 23, Becker called his parents and asked to be picked up from Waterloo to spend the night with them in Parkersburg. Early the next morning, Becker pried open a gun cabinet in his parents’ basement. He took a .22 caliber revolver and practiced shooting the gun at a birdhouse in his parents’ yard. He later told officials that after his practice session he knew he would have to get close to Thomas in order to be sure that he hit him. Becker then reloaded the gun and found a spare set of keys for one his parents’ cars and drove to Aplington. He knocked on the door of a residence and asked for Thomas by name. He was told Thomas did not live at that house. Becker then drove to Parkersburg where he asked a few people where he might find Thomas. Becker told one of these people that he needed to find Thomas because he was working with him on a tornado relief project. Since the high school in Parkersburg had been damaged by a tornado, a makeshift weight room had been set up in a bus barn.
Becker arrived at the weight room at about 7:45 a.m. Initially, he left the gun in the car. According to witnesses, he stuck his head in the door of the bus barn and looked around and left. Becker then retrieved the gun from his car and put it in the pocket of his coveralls.1 He reentered the weight room, approached Thomas, took out the gun, and shot Thomas six times in the head, chest and leg. He proceeded to kick and stomp on Thomas, yelling, “Fuck you, old man.” He then left the weight room screaming that he had killed Satan and telling people to go get his carcass. Thomas died from his injuries.
Becker drove away from the high school towards his parents’ home. Witnesses had already reported the shooting and described the car Becker was driving. Since the car was registered to Becker’s father, Sheriff Johnson headed to Becker’s parents’ home. As the sheriff approached the Becker residence, he could see a vehicle approaching. The vehicle turned in behind Johnson. The car followed Johnson into the driveway. Johnson accelerated, turned his vehicle at an angle for cover, and drew his weapon. As the car approached, Johnson saw an arm come out of the window. The driver was holding a handgun out of the window by the trigger guard. The vehicle stopped; Johnson ordered him to drop the gun; and Becker complied. Becker stepped out of the car and said, “I’m done, I’m done.”
Becker was found guilty of first-degree murder but made a claim that the district court did not accurately define insanity.
The Insantiy Defense is known as Iowa Code section 701.4 (2009). 1976 Iowa Acts ch. 1245(1), § 104.2 The section reads:
A person shall not be convicted of a crime if at the time the crime is committed the person suffers from such a diseased or deranged condition of the mind as to render the person incapable of knowing the nature and quality of the act the person is committing or incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong in relation to that act. Insanity need not exist for any specific length of time before or after the commission of the alleged criminal act. If the defense of insanity is raised, the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant at the time of the crime suffered from such a deranged condition of the mind as to render the defendant incapable of knowing the nature and quality of the act the defendant was committing or was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong in relation to the act.
Section 701.4 requires that in order to be found not guilty by reason of insanity the defendant must show he was either:
- incapable of knowing the nature and quality of the act he is committing, or
- incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong in relation to that act.
Iowa Code § 701.4. The defendant must also show that a diseased or deranged condition of the mind rendered him incapable of having the relevant knowledge for making the relevant distinction. There is overwhelming evidence in the record that Becker suffered from a diseased or deranged condition of the mind, and neither party argued to the jury that he did not. Under paragraph two, if the defendant cannot perform either one of the two functions listed, and this inability is due to a “diseased or deranged condition of the mind,” then the defendant is insane. If the jury determines, however, that the defendant did have the mental capacity to both know and understand the consequences of his actions and to distinguish right from wrong in relation to those actions, then the defendant is “sane.” The change in phrasing does not change the task of the jury, and Becker does not contest the propriety. The instructions given by the district court, when read as a whole, fairly and accurately advised the jury of the legal standard it was to apply to Becker’s insanity defense.