To view complete original transcript click here
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF IOWA
Filed April 20, 2018
Amended June 15, 2018
STATE OF IOWA, Appellee, vs. NOAH RILEY CROOKS, Appellant.
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mitchell County, Gregg R. Rosenbladt and James M. Drew, Judges.
Defendant convicted of second-degree murder as a youthful offender for offense he committed at age thirteen challenges his fifty-year prison sentence imposed at age eighteen. AFFIRMED.
Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers and Denise A. Timmins, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.
WATERMAN, Justice. In this appeal, we must decide challenges to Iowa’s youthful offender laws raised by a defendant who at age thirteen fatally shot his mother. The State prosecuted him as a youthful offender in district court, and a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. When he reached age eighteen, the district court sentenced him to an indeterminate prison term of up to fifty years (with no mandatory minimum). The defendant raises statutory and constitutional challenges to his prosecution and sentence, arguing that as a thirteen-year-old offender, his case should have remained in juvenile court and that at age eighteen he should have been released on probation or placed in a transitional facility rather than prison. We retained his appeal and, for the reasons explained below, affirm his conviction as a youthful offender and his fifty-year indeterminate sentence with immediate parole eligibility…
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
On the evening of March 24, 2012, Noah Crooks was at home with his mother, Gretchen Crooks. Noah was thirteen years old and an eighth grader at Osage Middle School. He had no prior criminal record. The Crooks lived in rural Osage, in Mitchell County. Gretchen worked as a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Mason City and was studying to get her master’s degree at the University of Iowa. Noah’s father, William Crooks,
worked at Cargill Kitchen Solutions in Mason City. William and Gretchen had been married for seventeen years. William was at a work-related party away from home that evening when Noah loaded a .22 caliber rifle upstairs. Noah took the loaded rifle downstairs and saw his mother in the kitchen facing away from him. She was making dinner for him.
Noah later told a child psychiatrist that he could not shoot her at that moment because it would not be honorable to shoot his mother in the back. Noah returned upstairs until his mother called up to say his dinner was ready. He returned downstairs with the rifle and this time found his mother sitting on the living room sofa studying her coursework. Noah shot her twenty-two times, killing her. Noah sent his dad a text message at 7:30 p.m. The message stated, “Dad, this is Noah. I killed Mom accidentally. I regret it. Come home now please.”
William thought Noah was joking and replied, “Okay. Just throw her in the grove. We will take care of her later.” Noah called 911 and told the Mitchell County dispatcher, Barbara Michael, “I killed my mom with my twenty-two.” He admitted he “shot her . . . with twenty rounds maybe.” Noah also said, “I, I tried to rape her. . . . I didn’t do it. I tried to rape her, I couldn’t do it.” Noah talked to the dispatcher about his concerns over his own future, stating, I’m never gonna be able to marry. . . . I’m never gonna get, be able to get a good job now, ‘cause it’ll be on my resume. . . . I mean, I’ll barely be able to get a job like McDonald’s. I mean I had plans of going to Michigan State University to get an engineering job, making my own car company. That’s all down the drain now.
Deputy Jeff Huftalin was dispatched to the Crooks’s residence and knocked on the front door. Noah answered the door while he was still on the phone with the dispatcher. Deputy Huftalin asked Noah where his mother was. Noah told him she was in the living room and that the gun was on a chair. Deputy Huftalin asked Noah to sit on the porch while he entered the house. Deputy Huftalin found Gretchen slouched on the couch; he could see bullet holes in her chest. Gretchen’s pajama top was unbuttoned, and she was naked from the waist down. Deputy Huftalin confirmed that Gretchen was dead. He handcuffed Noah and put him in the backseat of the patrol car. Deputy Huftalin called William to tell him there had been an accident in his house and that he needed to come home. Upon arrival, William was told that Gretchen was dead and that Noah had shot her. The State filed a delinquency petition four days later, alleging that Crooks, age thirteen, committed the delinquent acts of first-degree murder and assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse. The State requested that the juvenile court waive jurisdiction so that Crooks could be tried as a youthful offender in adult court, as provided in Iowa Code section 232.45(7) (2011). Crooks filed a motion to dismiss, challenging the juvenile court’s statutory authority to waive jurisdiction over a thirteen-year-old. The juvenile court denied the motion…
The district court ordered a presentence investigation (PSI). The PSI report recommended incarceration:
The defendant was 13 years of age when he shot and killed his mother. He will turn 18 on 07/29/16. Prior to his arrest on the instant offense he had no criminal history. He was involved in counseling with his family and was placed on psychotropic medication for a couple of years. There are reports he made comments to his peers at school about killing his mother and it would appear he bullied other children from time to time. It is also noted he was cruel to animals and may have burned down his grandmother’s home when he was 5–6 years of age. These types of behaviors are disturbing for a child of his age…
…He graduated from high school and has dreams of attending college. The real concern is for public safety and how the defendant will conduct himself if allowed to return to society. No one can predict the future behavior of an individual with any certainty. He has been in institutional settings since the age of 13 and has learned to follow rules and modify his behavior in a structured setting. The concern is will others be placed at risk and will he create more victims in the future? If the defendant could offer a plausible explanation for why he shot and killed his mother, that might offer some insight into his thoughts and actions that day, but he can give no explanation for why he did what he did. For the protection of society, it is recommended the defendant be supervised at a higher level of supervision than what community based supervision can provide.
In light of the above it is respectfully recommended that the defendant be sentenced to a period of forty-five (45) years to the custody of the Director of the Department of Corrections…