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James Robert Ernst II, at his first-degree murder trial in February 2016 in Waterloo.

Iowa Court of Appeals upholds Waterloo murder convictions

WATERLOO — The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of two men charged with different slayings in Waterloo.

The decisions affirming the murder convictions for Rodolfo Gonzalez Pena and James Ernst II came Wednesday in a batch of 51 opinions on cases from across the state.

Ernst was accused of killing 23-year-old Orintheo Campbell Jr. on Broadway Street in 2014, and Gonzalez was charged with killing 35-year-old Celio Antonio Posada of Minneapolis outside a Waterloo bar in 2014.

Gonzalez had argued he acted in self defense when Posada threatened to kill him with a knife after both left the El Senior Tequila nightclub. Prosecutors said Posada was shot once in the chest from a distance, and Posada then walked to a different area of the parking lot where he received a close-range execution-style shot to the head as he slumped against a vehicle.

Jurors found Gonzalez guilty of first-degree murder under the felony murder theory, which allows for a murder conviction if the defendant kills someone while in the act of committing a different felony.

On appeal, Gonzalez argued jurors shouldn’t have been allowed to consider the felony murder theory because the two shots weren’t different acts.

The Iowa Court of Appeals disagreed in its ruling.

“Because we find the two shots fired were sufficiently independent of each other to support a conviction of felony murder … and there is substantial evidence to support a finding of malice aforethought, we affirm the convictions,” the decision states.

Ernst also had claimed self defense during his jury trial, saying he and Campbell exchanged words and Campbell punched at him and then reached for something he thought was a weapon in his waistband after they and others watched a fight in a convenience store parking lot. Campbell was shot in the chest and the neck.

On appeal, Ernst argued he should have been allowed to show jurors a slide presentation he viewed when he took training to obtain his concealed carry permit. The trial judge prohibited showing the presentation because it included statements about Iowa and Utah law that could have been contrary to the jury instructions.

Ernst also argued his trial attorneys should have submitted a redacted version of the presentation that didn’t contain the legal statements.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled during trial the defense was able to introduce some of the same information covered in the slide show when Ernst took the stand to testify.

Ernst also appealed regarding jury instructions that covered the concept of malice.

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Police and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Courier

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