Mark Becker Appeals Due to Proposed Jury Being Misinformed about Insanity Defense

Mark Becker shot Ed Thomas six times and killed him on June 24, 2009.  Mark has been convicted of the first-degree murder of Ed, but has appealed to his conviction.  His proposal is that the jury was not properly instructed and informed on Becker’s insanity defense, his due process rights were violated, and that the restitution order exceeded the the maximum amount allowed by the statute.  The appeals all revolve around the instructions made to the jury and are to be reviewed in the case at hand.  This case determines, whether or not, Mark will get another shot at freedom.

Through high school football, Becker meet Thomas by playing footfall for Parkersburg.  He attended college for a semester at Wartburg but than dropped out a lived in different locations the years following.  He became more depressed and less communicative through these years.  In 2008, Becker came back to live with his parents but he began to have many violent experiences, including beating the walls with a baseball, an assault charge and hitting his mother while she was driving.  His relationship with his parents started to get better when Mark moved to Waterloo.  However, Becker ended up having a violent event where he tried to break into a man’s house with a baseball bat that led to a high-speed police chase.  Mark was later arrested and evaluated to find out that he had paranoid schizophrenia.  Becker was released two days later but the police were never notified.

Life for Mark and his parents were starting to return to normal and their relationship began to grow stronger.  On the morning of June 24, Becker broke into his parent’s gun cabinet, took it outside and shot at his parent’s birdhouse for practice.  Mark stole his parent’s car and drove to find out where he could find Ed Thomas.  After asking around,  Becker found out that Ed was at the weight room and drove to him.  Mark entered the weight room, shot Thomas six times than stomped on him and yelled, “Fuck you, old man”.  “He then left the weight room screaming that he had killed Satan and telling people to go get his carcass. Thomas died from his injuries.” as quoted by Zager.  After the shooting, Mark drove to his parent’s home where he was arrested by local police.

First-degree murder is being charged to Becker but he noted for an insanity defense.  Zager gave a description of the trial, “The State presented numerous witnesses who identified Becker as the shooter. The defense called numerous witnesses to testify to Becker’s history of mental problems and his behavior in the days leading up to the shooting. The defense then called two psychiatrists who offered expert testimony that at the time of the shootings Becker was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and that, as a result, Becker did not know and understand the nature or consequences of his actions and was incapable of distinguishing right from wrong in relation to those actions. In rebuttal, the State called two of its own psychiatrists. They agreed Becker suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, but they testified that he nevertheless understood the nature and consequences of his action and knew right from wrong in relation to the acts he committed.”  Now here is where the issue of the case arises, stated by Zager “The jury deliberated for several days and sent several questions to the district court, including one on February 26, in which they asked the judge what would happen if Becker were found not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge answered by referring the jurors to jury instruction 10 which told the jurors that it was their duty to determine guilt or innocence and that in the event of a guilty verdict, they would have nothing to do with punishment. Instruction 10 does not refer to the consequences of a notguilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict. However, in response to the jury’s question, the court informed the jury that in the event of either a guilty verdict or a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict, the jury would have 9 nothing to do with the consequences and that these were issues for the court, not the jury.” Days later, the jury gave the verdict of guilty, but soon after Mark Becker wanted a new trial.  Becker’s appeal is based on the jury not being given an accurate definition of insanity and that the court should of given his own instruction instead of theirs.

Previous cases have stated”Instructions must correctly state the law, but they do not need to “contain or mirror the precise language of the applicable statute.” (State v. Schuler, 774 N.W.2d 294, 298 (Iowa 2009)). And “We have stated that “the court is required to give a party’s requested instruction so long as it ‘ “states a correct rule of law having application to the facts of the case and when the concept is not otherwise embodied in other instructions.” (Marin, 788 N.W.2d at 837)  Following these statements, the Iowa court looked into the definition of the insanity defense and compared it to the Becker case.  The purpose of this being was not only to see if Mark’s instruction were correct but if the court’s instruction were given correctly as well.  Through further comparison, the state accurately stated the instructions and defined the defense of insanity.  Zager points out ” Accordingly, we cannot say that the district court’s decision to give instruction 35 instead of Becker’s proposed instruction was clearly unreasonable… Becker’s instruction was an accurate, complete and succinct statement of section 701.4, and it would not have been improper for the district court to have utilized this instruction. Indeed, future appeals of this nature might be avoided by issuing an instruction like the one Becker requested…”  The court does see that it would have wise decision to have allowed Mark’s instructions to have been given to the jury but it does not however exploit the responsibility of the court.

Becker’s instructions were “Punishment not for Jury. The duty of the jury is to determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. In the event of a guilty verdict, you have nothing to do with punishment. If you find a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, the defendant shall be immediately ordered committed to a state mental health institute or other appropriate facility for a complete psychiatric evaluation.” and what the state gave was “Duty of Jury. The duty of the Jury is to determine if the Defendant is guilty or not guilty. In the event of a guilty verdict, you have nothing to do with punishment”.  In comparison, Mark’s instructions gave more description but had the same point, just with more words added on.  Following the instructions, the other issue of the questions took place, but when the court asked Becker if they had accurately stated the law, Mark and his attorney’s agreed. But after the verdict, the motion was than filed by Becker for a new trail dealing with the issues presented even though the defense acknowledged that the court did it the right way.  The case dealt with the appeal by correlating with other cases that had similar situations.  The courts analyzed each factor and the supporting laws.

The conclusion was made by the Iowa court that Becker does not have a case to appeal for. Zager disclosed about the decision, “we conclude that under the specific facts and circumstances of this case, fundamental fairness did not require the district court to instruct the jury that, if the defendant were found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be committed to a mental health facility for evaluation. It is unnecessary to provide a list of the possible circumstances that might mandate a consequence instruction. Instead, like the Supreme Court, “[w]e note this possibility merely so that our decision will not be misunderstood as an absolute prohibition on instructing the jury with regard to the consequences of [a not-guilty-byreason-of-insanity] verdict.” Following the verdict detail, the disposition described that the instructions were clearly given by the court and Becker’s insanity defense was accurately stated.

Justice Hecht gave a dissent of the case explaining that Becker was not given due process do to his insanity defense being “washed away”, so to speak.  Becker had shown mental problems before the shooting and was hospitalized multiple times because of it.  There were examples of him becoming out of touch with reality and it wasn’t being controlled.  Due to Mark Becker’s extraordinary circumstances, the possibility of insanity became hopeless which would be hard to have a fair, unbiased trial. The Justice Hecht dissented the case and quoted that “Given Becker’s history of violent, delusional, and homicidal conduct consistent with severe mental derangement, the jurors were justifiably unwilling, without the requested information about the consequences, to risk the possibility that Becker would again be released without proper psychiatric assessment and management. Deprived of a meaningful opportunity to assert his only defense, Becker’s right to a fair jury trial was abridged. I would grant him a new trial.”  The verdict has been made, Mark Becker is guilty and there will be not be another trial…unless his possible insanity is proven.

 

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