Appeals court hears arguments in Prestage murder case

Brown charged in 2021 murder; his competency to stand trial is at issue

Lukouxs Alan Brown

DES MOINES — The Iowa Court of Appeals is now considering the appeal of a Fort Dodge man whose attorneys say he’s not competent to stand trial for the 2021 murder of a co-worker.

Lukouxs Alan Brown, 29, is charged with first-degree murder for the Feb. 16, 2021, slaying of 50-year-old Wayne Smith, also of Fort Dodge. According to court documents, the two men were coworkers at Prestage Foods of Iowa, 3183 Highway 17 outside of Eagle Grove, and while in the employee locker room at the facility, Brown allegedly attacked Smith, cutting his throat with a knife.

Brown, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, was soon deemed incompetent to stand trial due to his inability to understand the proceedings or assist in his own defense, and was sent to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale) psychiatric hospital for treatment to be restored to competency.

Brown spent about 10 months at Oakdale receiving treatment and despite several reports from the treating physicians that his status was progressing, the court received a report in February 2022 stating that Brown was still not competent and was no longer a candidate for continued restoration efforts.

Iowa Code Chapter 812 requires a hearing to be held within 14 days of a report that a defendant’s competency has been restored or that they are no longer a candidate for restoration. That initial hearing was held on Feb. 11, 2022, within that 14-day timeframe, but during the hearing, the prosecution requested a continuance of the hearing in order to seek a second opinion on Brown’s competency.

The matter resumed three months later with a hearing on May 6, during which Wright County District Court Judge Gregg Rosenbladt heard testimony from Oakdale physicians Dr. Arnold Andersen and Dr. John Bayless, who treated and evaluated Brown, and from the state’s expert, Dr. Roseanna Jones-Thurman. Brown’s sister also testified and a phone call between the two that was recorded by the jail in April 2022 — during the time Brown awaited the “second opinion” requested by the state — was played as evidence.

In the phone call with his sister, Brown told her that he used the jail’s “CIA” to talk to friends back home and was actively planning a return to Oregon and then move to Florida for a culinary arts career.

Jones-Thurman testified she is not board certified in any field, none of her current patients have a schizophrenia diagnosis and she only met with Brown one time for about two hours. She said she questioned him on his understanding of key personnel at a trial and he said he believed a judge “blends the story and puts it back together.”

Jones-Thurman also testified that she concluded Brown was competent to stand trial because he “understands the term murder and that he killed someone,” despite suffering from Bipolar II disorder, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder and numerous substance abuse disorders.

Rosenbladt ultimately sided with the state’s expert, ordering on June 17, 2022, that Brown was competent to stand trial and ordered proceedings against him to resume.

Brown’s attorneys appealed Rosenbladt’s ruling directly to the Iowa Supreme Court, but the case was rerouted to the Court of Appeals. On Tuesday, the Iowa Court of Appeals heard the oral arguments from Brown’s appellate attorney and the state’s appellate attorney on the matter.

Brown’s appeal focuses on three main arguments.

First, the appeal contends that the District Court made a mistake when it deemed Brown was competent and reinstated proceedings because the preponderance of the evidence showed that Brown is incompetent and unable to be restored to competency.

Second, it contends that Chapter 812 does not authorize the state to obtain a second opinion on the matters of competency or potential for restoration.

Third, it argues that the District Court also erred when it failed to hold a “substantive hearing” within 14 days of the report from Oakdale stating Brown is no longer a candidate for restoration treatment as required by Chapter 812, violating his due process rights.

In a written brief for the appeal, Brown’s appellate defender argued that Jones-Thurman’s testimony about concluding Brown is competent to stand trial is “undermined by her own report.”

Asking about the credibility of Jones-Thurman on Tuesday, Court of Appeals Judge Mary Tabor noted that the defendant’s ability to understand the role of the jury is “pretty key to the determination of competency.”

In Jones-Thurman’s report, she wrote, “He reports that he can’t remember what the jury does and doesn’t know exactly, but they might be like court jesters.”

“I think that’s super troubling, that he didn’t understand that they were the fact-finders in his case,” Tabor said.

During the oral arguments, Brown’s appellate defender argued that Chapter 812 does not give the prosecution the authority to obtain a second opinion once Oakdale reports a defendant is unable to be restored to competency. The attorney argued that the Oakdale physicians are “neutral” experts working for neither the prosecution or defense, while Jones-Thurman was hired specifically by the prosecution and is therefore not a neutral party.

The state’s appellate attorney argued that Rosenbladt had “substantial evidence” to find that Brown was restored to competency and that his defense “lost the battle of the experts.”

The state also asserts that Chapter 812 does grant the parties the authority to obtain independent evaluations of the defendant’s competency and restoration potential. Attorneys for the state argued that Chapter 812’s guideline to hold a hearing within 14 days of the final report from Oakdale is a “directory, not mandatory, duty.”

The case is now considered submitted to the Court of Appeals and a written ruling will be issued at a later date.


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