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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Conspiracy Theory: Court Of Appeals Of Iowa Finds Statements After Discovery Of Body Qualified As Co-Conspirator Admissions

Like its federal counterpartIowa Rule of Evidence 5.801(d)(2)(E) provides that a statement is not hearsay if

The statement is offered against a party and is...a statement by a coconspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.

So, let's say that three men allegedly conspire to kill a victim and then kill the victim. And let's say that the day after the body is discovered, with a police officer in the front yard of one of the co-conspirators, one alleged co-conspirator says to another that he is only one of three people who knew about the body. Does this statement qualify as a co-conspirator admission under Rule 5.801(d)(2)(E)? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Iowa in State v. Huser, 2011 WL 6079120 (Iowa App. 2011), the answer is "yes."

In Huser, the facts were as stated above, with Vernon Huser, Louis Woolheater, Lawrence Webb conspiring to kill Lance Morningstar. After they killed Morningstar, they wrapped his body in tarp and dumped it in the woods. Eventually, hunters discovered the body, and the noose began to tighten on the conspiracy.

With police in Woolheater's front yard, the day after discovery of Morningstar's body, Woolheater told Webb that he was one of only three people who knew about the body. Webb took this as a directive to keep quiet about the involvement of Huser and Woolheater in Morningstar's death.

Huser was eventually charged with murder in the first degree for aiding and abetting Woolheater in the killing of Morningstar. At trial, the court allowed testimony concerning Woolheater's statement to Webb after deeming it a co-conspirator admission under Rule 5.801(d)(2)(E).

After, he was convicted, Huser appealed, claiming, inter alia, that Woolheater's statement was neither made during the course of or in furtherance of the conspiracy.The Court of Appeals of Iowa disagreed, first finding that the statement was during the course of the conspiracy because

Every act in furtherance of a conspiracy "is deemed a renewal or continuance of the conspiracy...[t]hus, a conspiracy may continue into the concealment phase."...When Woolheater met with Webb at Woolheater's house, a police car sat in the front yard. Webb interpreted Woolheater's statement that only three of them knew about the body as a threat, and delayed going to the police for that reason....Because Woolheater was trying to conceal the crime, the timeframe of the conspiracy extended beyond the discovery of the body.

Of course, this block quote also partially explains why the court found that Woolheater's statement was in furtherance of the conspiracy, but the court also went on to note that

The circumstances underlying Woolheater's statement confirm it was in furtherance of the conspiracy. With police in Woolheater's front yard, the day after discovery of Morningstar's body, Woolheater told Webb that he was one of only three people who knew about the body. Webb took this as a directive to keep quiet about the involvement of Huser and Woolheater in Morningstar's death. In context, Woolheater's statement about the three friends sharing the dangerous secret was more than idle chatter or mere narration of the conspiracy. Because Woolheater's statement induced Webb not to divulge what he knew about Morningstar's murder, the district court properly allowed the testimony as a coconspirator statement.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2011/12/804b3-state-v-huserslip-copy-2011-wl-6079120-tableiowa-app2011.html

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