Convicted domestic abuser loses one appeal, wins another

By: - September 2, 2021 2:49 pm

The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld the domestic-abuse conviction of a Polk County man, despite the fact that his accuser failed to appear at trial. (Photo by the Tingey Injury Law Firm via Unsplash)

The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld the domestic-abuse conviction of a Polk County man, despite the fact that his accuser failed to appear at trial.

The court, however, sided with the defendant in tossing out his conviction for suborning perjury.

In June 2019, Gary Charles Wood of Polk County was arrested and charged with third-offense domestic abuse after an altercation with his live-in girlfriend. Having previously been convicted of domestic abuse in September 2018 and June 2019, Wood was charged as a habitual offender, which allowed for enhanced penalties.

After the arrest, Wood’s girlfriend obtained a no-contact order prohibiting Wood from contacting her.

Records: No-contact order violated at least 100 times

According to court records, Wood violated that order at least at least 100 times while in jail awaiting trial, through text messages, phone calls and virtual visits. He was able to do so, in part, by using the phone accounts of several different inmates in his housing unit at the jail.

Wood’s girlfriend then became uncooperative with prosecutors, cutting off communication with them and disappearing on the eve of trial.

As a result of the phone calls, Wood was charged with suborning perjury.

At Wood’s trial on the domestic abuse charge, prosecutors presented a judge with jailhouse recordings of 10 conversations Wood had with his girlfriend in violation of the no-contact order, arguing that because Wood had caused the woman’s absence from court, he had forfeited his right to confront his accuser in court. As such, they argued, the woman’s statements to police on the night of the incident could be admitted as evidence even though she couldn’t be called to testify.

The judge in the case sided with prosecutors, and allowed the woman’s statements to police to be presented as evidence. Wood was convicted, and as a habitual offender he was sentenced to a prison term of up 15 years, with a mandatory minimum of five years to be served.

Wood then appealed his conviction, claiming in part that his jailhouse conversations with his girlfriend did not rise to the level of interfering with her willingness to testify.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled otherwise on Wednesday, noting that in one conversation, Wood told the woman to “be quiet, shut up, listen to me. I’ll see you in court. I’ll see you in court.” Shortly before the trial, Wood was recorded telling the woman, “No, no you can’t,” when she indicated she planned to attend the trial and would see him there.

The appeals court upheld the domestic abuse conviction, stating that Wood’s “menacing tone and veiled threats in those jail calls, together with his prior violence,” proved Wood had forfeited his constitutional right to confront his accuser.

However, the court sided with Wood in the appeal of his conviction for suborning perjury.

Call indicated confusion over court date

The court noted that in one of the calls Wood placed to his girlfriend, there was confusion over whether an Oct. 21 court date was for a probation hearing or the trial at which prosecutors wanted the woman to testify.

The conversation went as follows:

Wood: Hello.

Woman: Hi, baby.

Wood: Hey, listen to me real carefully, OK?

Woman: OK.

Wood: On the 21st, um, that’s not my probation violation hearing. So, when I am done with court on the 21st, I will call you.

Woman: OK.

Wood: OK. I will call you after it’s over.

Woman: OK, so don’t show up?

Wood: No.

Wood was convicted of suborning perjury and sentenced to a prison term of up to 15 years, with a minimum of three years to be served.

He appealed that conviction and on Wednesday the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the decision, saying it could be reasonably inferred from the phone calls that Wood asked the woman “to not show up at court on October 21st. But does that evidence establish that Wood offered something of benefit or value or a reason, which would influence, persuade, coax, encourage or invite (her) to not show up? We think not.”

The court noted that in order to prove a charge of suborning perjury, there must be evidence Wood induced his girlfriend not to appear. “That Wood was generally demanding is not enough. That he generally played on (her) emotions is not enough. That he generally professed his love for (her) is not enough. That he made a lot of promises to (her) of a happy life ‘when all this was over with’ is not enough.”

The court remanded the case back to district court for a judgment entry showing Wood was acquitted.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.