Court upholds Iowa man’s conviction for killing his grandmother with a bayonet

By: - September 3, 2021 3:58 pm

The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld a child endangerment conviction in a case involving a 6-year-old boy who was subjected to a literal, physical tug of war between his divorced parents. (Creative Commons photo via

The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Muscatine man who killed his grandmother with a bayonet.

According to police and prosecutors, 19-year-old Darian Lensgraf entered the Muscatine home of his grandmother, Diana Lensgraf, early on the morning of Dec. 12, 2018, her 66th birthday. Darian stabbed his grandmother multiple times in the chest and throat with a bayonet, killing her, police said.

At his trial on charges of first-degree murder, Lensgraf raised an insanity defense, with his attorney and the state presenting conflicting expert testimony as to whether he had the mental capacity to commit the murder with “malice aforethought,” an essential element of a first-degree murder charge in Iowa.

As the judge’s instructions to the jury explained, malice aforethought means there is a “a fixed purpose or design to do some physical harm to another which exists before the act is committed.”

Lensgraf, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was convicted and subsequently filed an appeal, claiming there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. He argued there was “overwhelming evidence” presented at trial to rebut any claim of malice aforethought due to his well-documented mental illness.

Noting the conflicting expert testimony that was presented, the Iowa Court of Appeals stated that the question it had to decide was not whether the trial evidence might support a different verdict, but whether there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s actual verdict.

“We think there was,” the court ruled in affirming the conviction. “As Lensgraf concedes, and the jury instructions provided, malice aforethought may be inferred from a defendant’s use of a dangerous weapon. Here the evidence showed Lensgraf used a dangerous weapon, a bayonet, against his grandmother … Moreover, this is not a case in which the victim was only stabbed once, perhaps as an accident. Rather, the evidence showed Lensgraf inflicted multiple stab wounds. This also supports a finding of malice aforethought.”

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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.