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Convicted murderer Larry Whaley loses appeal after killing woman in Mason City

DES MOINES – Convicted murderer Larry Whaley lost his appeal after killing a woman in Mason City back in 2016.

A jury found Larry Whaley guilty of murder in the second degree. The verdict followed the state’s evidence showing Whaley fired three shots through his closed apartment door located at 116 17th Street SE in Mason City on December 4, 2016 — the first shot killed Samantha Teeter.

On appeal, Whaley contended the State offered insufficient evidence to prove he acted with malice aforethought and without justification. Whaley also argues his trial counsel was ineffective for not further investigating an insanity defense and his competency to stand trial.

Viewing the record in the light most favorable to the verdict, the Iowa Court of Appeals found substantial evidence to sustain the second-degree murder conviction. But because Whaley’s claims of ineffective assistance involve questions of trial strategy and the record is inadequately developed to address those questions, the court preserved them for possible postconviction-relief proceedings.

Facts and Prior Proceedings, according to court documents:

In the early morning hours of December 2, 2016, Samantha Teeter and her boyfriend, Kaleb Van Scyoc, knocked on the door of Whaley’s apartment. Rather than opening the door or asking who was there, Whaley shot three times. Van Scyoc heard a loud slapping noise, and when he turned to look at Teeter, he saw “this whole side of her face was gone.”

The shooting culminated a chaotic day. On the morning of December 1, Whaley “evicted” Cory and Heather Mays from his apartment with the assistance of Mason City police. Cory was upset about moving out and kept a key to the apartment so he could retrieve their belongings. Whaley believed Cory possessed a gun.

That same day, Whaley hung out with Debra Ewing. Ewing, who met Whaley three weeks earlier, had a past relationship with Jason Bendickson. She was staying with a friend because she feared Bendickson. When Bendickson tracked down Ewing at the friend’s home, Whaley picked her up in his car.

Later in day, Whaley and Ewing met up with Teeter and Van Scyoc. The foursome drove around in Whaley’s car, making several stops. At one stop, Whaley purchased a revolver, telling Ewing it would protect her from Bendickson. Then they stopped at Walmart to buy ammunition and a cellphone for Ewing. Around 9:40 p.m., Whaley rented a room at the Days Inn to conceal Ewing from Bendickson. But soon Ewing said she would rather spend the night at Whaley’s apartment, so they left. With Teeter and Van Scyoc, they returned to Whaley’s apartment. Whaley urged Ewing to return to the motel “because he didn’t want to kill anybody” that night—“his words,” Ewing clarified—but Ewing prevailed upon him to stay at the apartment.

Whaley handed Teeter a key to his apartment. Teeter, Van Scyoc, and Ewing went inside while Whaley went out for groceries. Teeter and Van Scyoc left before Whaley returned. Ewing told Whaley Teeter would be back. Meanwhile, Ewing stretched out on the couch to sleep (Ewing admitted using methamphetamine and heroin that night.) Whaley sat by her feet, with the gun on his lap—Ewing assumed he was protecting her.

It was around 3:40 a.m. when Teeter and Van Scyoc returned to the apartment. Van Scyoc testified he thought Teeter tried to knock. Eventually, Teeter used Whaley’s key to unlock the door. Then Van Scyoc knocked and called out, “It’s Kid,” his nickname. Inside the apartment, Whaley woke Ewing up, saying “somebody’s at the door.” Whaley then stood up and shot the gun toward the door. In an interview with police, Whaley recalled standing about five feet from the door when he fired the first shot. “He said it was a warning shot.” Whaley then fired two more shots through the door and told Ewing to call 911.

Whaley told police “he was hoping that it was Cory Mays” on the other said of the door. Ewing testified she believed Bendickson was the person trying to enter the apartment. In fact, Teeter was behind the door, and Whaley’s first bullet fatally wounded her. The State initially accused Whaley of first-degree murder, but amended the charge to second degree. During the prosecution, Whaley filed many letters with the court as a self-represented party. The court originally appointed public defender Susan Flander to represent Whaley, but Flander withdrew due to a conflict of interest. Michael Adams replaced Flander. Adams sought and was granted a court-ordered competency evaluation of Whaley.

At the competency hearing, the evidence showed Whaley was 61 years old, a former Marine, and a retired machine operator. He had a long history of abusing substances—including alcohol, crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. In early November 2016, Whaley’s mental health plummeted. Four times, Mason City police officers responded to calls at his apartment and found Whaley in need of treatment. Whaley was hospitalized all four times. In one instance, Whaley wielded a knife and claimed people were inside his home with a gun; in another, he told police to check the windows and “watch their backs”; on yet another occasion, Whaley said people were in his home preventing him from leaving, and he repeatedly asked if the hospital windows were bulletproof.

Dr. John Bayless, a neuropsychologist, and Dr. Arnold Anderson, a psychiatrist, separately examined Whaley and found him competent to stand trial. Both experts based their conclusions on police reports and deposition transcripts from the November 2016 incidents, as well as notes from two psychiatric visits and a variety of other sources. The experts did not review medical records from Whaley’s November hospitalizations.

At trial, Whaley advanced a claim of self-defense. The jury ultimately convicted Whaley guilty of second-degree murder.

On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the murder conviction.

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