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Former Charles City woman convicted of sexual abuse of step-grandson will be tried again, prosecutor says

DES MOINES – A woman formerly of Charles City that was found guilty of felony second degree sexual abuse involving her step-grandson and has been serving a 25 year prison sentence recently won an appeal in her case – but now prosecutors say they will seek a new trial.

Jill Tjernagel, age 56, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on September 8, 2015 and was shipped to the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, Iowa on September 10 by the Hamilton county sheriff’s office.  She was ordered to pay $25,972.75 in fines, court fees and other costs.  Additionally, she must register as a sex offender. Records show she is still incarcerated and has paid $25,924.07 of $25,972.75 she owed to Iowa courts in the case.

However, the Iowa Court of Appeals recently reversed and remanded the case, putting the onus on prosecutors to decide whether to try her again or not.

Now, according to a spokesperson at the Iowa Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, Tjernagel will stand trial again.

“Following the Iowa Court of Appeals decision in the Tjernagel case, our office has decided to proceed with a new trial,” Communications Director Geoff Greenwood tells NIT.  “There will likely be a bond hearing scheduled at some point, and the judge will set a new trial date.”

According to court records:

Jill Tjernagel appealed her conviction and sentence for sexual abuse in the second degree following a jury trial. She argues (1) trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance resulting in prejudice by failing to object to (a) impermissible expert testimony consisting of vouching for the credibility of the victim, using statistics to imply guilt, profiling the defendant, and giving information that was within the common knowledge of the jurors, and (b) misconduct by the prosecutor in soliciting expert vouching testimony; (2) the district court erred in denying her motion for new trial based on her claims of impermissible vouching testimony by expert witnesses; (3) the jury wrongfully considered extraneous and inaccurate information regarding punishment; (4) her rights to compulsory process and due process were violated when the district court quashed subpoenas for prosecutor testimony in relation to her claims of prosecutorial misconduct; and (5) cumulative evidentiary and constitutional errors violated her rights to a fair trial and due process. Upon our review, we reverse Tjernagel’s conviction and remand for new trial based on her claim trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to expert witness testimony vouching for the credibility of the child victim. Because we expect testimony regarding statistics, profiling, and common knowledge to be issues that will be presented again on retrial, we will address them. We do not reach Tjernagel’s other claims.

In June 2014, the State charged Tjernagel with the crime of sexual abuse in the second degree, in violation of Iowa Code sections 709.1(3) and .3(2) (2013), stemming from allegations Tjernagel sexually abused her step-grandson, L.K., when she babysat him at her home sometime before February 20, 2013. The testimony at trial alleged the conduct occurred when L.K. was between four and six years old.

In April 2015, a jury found Tjernagel guilty of second-degree sexual abuse. Tjernagel filed numerous posttrial motions raising several grounds for new trial and requesting reconsideration of her claims. After a hearing on the motions, the district court denied Tjernagel’s motions and preserved her claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for postconviction relief.

The district court entered judgment of conviction and sentenced Tjernagel to a term of imprisonment for no more than twenty-five years, carrying a mandatory minimum of seventy percent, and a lifetime special sentence pursuant to Iowa Code section 903B.1.

Tjernagel remains incarcerated in the meantime, as a possible bond review hearing is weighed.

JILL CARLA TJERNAGEL
JILL CARLA TJERNAGEL
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