Convicted killer to be refunded $50,000 intended for victim restitution

By: - November 8, 2021 4:47 pm

The Iowa Judicial Building. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Judicial Branch)

A convicted murderer is entitled to the $50,000 in cash that a judge had designated for victim restitution, the Iowa Courts of Appeals has ruled.

According to court records, James Farnsworth II was arrested by Mason City police in April 2012 for the stabbing death of Ian Decker.

In the hours before the stabbing, Farnsworth’s girlfriend, Victoria Miller, had received a text of a smiley face from Decker, her former boyfriend and the father of her child. Later that same evening, the three met at an apartment building and the two men fought, with Decker throwing the first punch, court records state. After the two grappled on the ground, Decker stood up, revealing blood streaming down his chest. He then collapsed and Farnsworth drove away. Decker died at the scene from a stab wound that had pierced his heart.

Farnsworth was charged with first-degree murder and in January 2013, he was convicted of second-degree murder. He later filed an application for post-conviction relief, raising several claims that alleged ineffective assistance of legal counsel. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the application, which led to an appeal.

One of the claims made by Farnsworth related to the $50,000 cash bond he had posted prior to his trial, guaranteeing his appearance in court. The bond contained language authorizing the clerk of court to use the bail bond to “pay all fines, surcharges, (costs) and victim restitution” that might later be ordered by the court.

After the jury returned its verdict, the sentencing order issued by the judge required Farnsworth to pay $150,000 in damages to Decker’s heirs, plus $14,972 to the Crime Victim Assistance program.

At the time, the judge expressed an intent to apply the $50,000 cash bond toward the victim-restitution debt, unless the state or Farnsworth’s attorney filed an objection. Neither did so, and so the court forfeited the bond and the $50,000 was applied to the restitution debt.

On appeal, Farnsworth argued that his attorney mishandled his appearance bond, first by raising the issue in court, which led to the original bond of $100,000 being doubled, with the added proviso that $50,000 had to be submitted by Farnsworth in cash and in his own name.

“This was clearly intended to create a fund out of which statutory restitution could be paid in the event of the conviction,” Farnsworth argued on appeal. He said his own attorney had advised him such a maneuver was illegal and that potential victim restitution can’t be considered by the court when setting a defendant’s bond amount.

The Court of Appeals found that Farnsworth’s attorney erred in failing to object to the court’s application of the $50,000 to victim restitution since the courts have previously stated that the disposition of any pretrial bail money that was paid out should not be part of the subsequent sentencing process.

“Counsel had a duty to object to the district court’s expressed intent to apply the cash bond amount to his outstanding restitution obligation,” the Court of Appeals ruled. The court ruled against Farnsworth on his other claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

The court ordered that the case be returned to district court so that the clerk of court can return the money to Farnsworth as required by Iowa law.

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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.