Iowa Court of Appeals hears cases at the UI

BY LUKE VOELZ | MARCH 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Seven members of the Iowa Court of Appeals heard arguments en banc Wednesday on whether to grant a new trial to an Iowan convicted of murder 15 years ago.

During hearings in the University of Iowa College of Law’s Levitt Auditorium, an attorney for David Flores said new evidence should permit him a new trial.

Flores, 34, was found guilty in the 1996 of shooting and killing bystander Phyllis Davis during a gang fight in Des Moines.

In 2009, a judge granted Flores a new trial after finding that his now-deceased attorney John Wellman was not given an FBI report. That document included testimony from gang member Calvin Gaines that suggested the bullet that killed Davis actually came from the gun of a fellow gang member, Rafael Robinson, who is a different race than Flores. The state appealed the decision to grant a new trial.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Cmelik, who represented the state on Wednesday, said he did not believe this evidence would have changed the 1997 trial’s outcome. He also argued Wellman had access to a report conducted by a Des Moines police captain that contained the same information.

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“Our ultimate opinion is that there isn’t any supporting evidence in this case,” Cmelik said.

“Everything that Wellman needed to know is supported in [the captain’s report], and circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly supports that John Wellman had it.”

But Flores’ lawyer argued that even if Wellman didn’t have access to the reports, evidence recently provided by Robinson’s ex-girlfriend, Carla Harris, would help mandate a new trial.

Kennedy said Harris approached her in 2008 and claimed Robinson said he killed Davis. But Robinson was killed in a gang fight after the alleged confession in 1996. One of the central questions at the hearing was why Harris didn’t come forward immediately.

“She had recently lost her boyfriend right before the Phyllis David murder, she was upset, and did not follow through although she understood it was Rafael that did [the murders,]” Kennedy said during the hearing. “She read about [Flores’ conviction] in the papers and believed Rafael was telling the truth. She then came forward and decided that after 15 years she wanted to make a name for herself.”

Flores’s case was one of 26 appellate hearings presented on the UI campus this week.

UI law Professor Margaret Raymond, who sent several of her classes to the hearings, said she was glad that students could witness a variety of cases.

“Anytime you can watch lawyers engage, you can learn from it,” she said. “There are different and novel issues presented, and lawyers use different techniques in arguing.”

Raymond said the appeals cases allowed students to see a form of law practice different from what is commonly seen in trial courts.

“Most trials have to deal with the resolution of facts,” she said. “Once you get to appeals courts, the facts are usually resolved. The appellate court question is ‘What’s the appropriate law that should be applied to resolved facts?’ ”

The Iowa Appellate Court, which often holds hearings throughout the state, last convened at the UI in 2009.

Iowa Supreme Court communications officer Steve Davis said this year’s hearings at the UI were in response to university officials’ interest in allowing students to watch the appeals.

“I’m just here to learn,” said third-year UI law student Holly Stott. “I don’t get to see a lot of [court cases] in law school, so it’s nice to come and watch.”

The Court of Appeals is expected to take up to a month to issue a ruling in the Flores case.

Some background informationis from the Associated Press.

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