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UPDATE – Feds pursue justice despite Story County jury verdict
The man acquitted in the 2011 homicide of a local cab driver has now been charged in federal court for robbing her at the time of her death.
Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell, 38, of Cedar Rapids, was indicted Tuesday of one count of robbery affecting commerce in U.S. District Court. The indictment states Mitchell obstructed commerce — the cab company service — by “violently” robbing Catherine “Cathy” Stickley, 54, who was driving a Century Cab on April 29, 2011.
His initial appearance in federal court hasn’t been set. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Mitchell was acquitted in 2013 by a Story County jury for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the homicide of Stickley, 54, of Cedar Rapids, who was stabbed to death that night in 2011. The trial was moved from Linn County due to pretrial publicity.
According to testimony, Stickley was stabbed 18 times in the neck and head. Mitchell’s prints were found in Stickley’s blood in the cab. The prosecution claimed Mitchell needed money for crack cocaine and he killed Stickley to get it.
On Friday, April 29, 2011, someone stabbed Cedar Rapids cab driver Catherine Ann “Cathy” Stickley before stealing the 54-year-old’s cab fare money.
Around 10 p.m. Friday night, a pedestrian found Stickley lying face down in a pool of blood next to her taxi in the 1500 block alley between Second and Third Avenues SE. Officers and medical personnel tried to revive her, but she died at the scene.
Linn County Medical Examiner Don Linder released autopsy results the following Monday, and said Stickley died of stab wounds to the head and neck.
Stickley — a mother of four children and five grandchildren who owned and operated a taxi cab for Century Cab Company — had been stabbed 18 times. Officials ruled her death a homicide.
The day after Stickley’s murder, her family told KCRG-TV9 her death was “an act of evil.”
Tiffany Stickley, one of the victim’s two daughters, said police told the family her mother was likely robbed and that paramedics pronounced her mother dead when they arrived on scene.
“We’re thanking everyone for their prayers and thoughts,” Tiffany Stickley told KCRG on Saturday, April 30. “Cathy was an honest and hardworking woman, mother and grandmother. We’re just hoping justice prevails for our family.”
Three days later on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, nearly 20 officers in SWAT gear approached the 416 15th St. NE home of 33-year-old Johnathan Dewayne Mitchell, located a half-block from Polk Elementary School and just five blocks from where Stickley had been killed.
Armed with shields, rifles and crowbars, officials arrested Mitchell at the home without incident, and later charged him with first-degree murder in Stickley’s homicide.
Mitchell was held at the Linn County Jail under a $1 million bond pending trial.
“It is tragic when a member of our community is murdered,” Police Chief Greg Graham said in a statement after Mitchell’s arrest. “The men and women of the Cedar Rapids Police Department worked tirelessly in tracking down the suspect that needlessly took Ms. Stickley’s life.”
Stickley’s son, Chris Petersen, applauded Cedar Rapids police for the arrest but said in a Tuesday statement his family was still reeling from the unexpected attack. The Gazette reported on May 3, 2011:
Peterson said the family worried for their mother’s safety working as a cab driver and said they had recently urged her to move from Cedar Rapids.
Stickley apparently shrugged off the idea, telling her children, “Don’t worry, the people down here love me.”
“And I’m sure that is the case,” Petersen wrote in the statement. “One bad person does not make a neighborhood. Many good people do.”
Stickley had raised her family in the same Wellington Heights neighborhood where she’d later be killed, but the family said they still had fond memories of the neighborhood.
Peterson said he shot hoops with many friends in the same spot where his mother was killed, and that his friends called him “money” every time he shot.
“How ironic at one time I was deadly from the very spot that someone from my neighborhood would claim my mother’s life,” Petersen wrote in his statement.
The day after Mitchell’s arrest, family members learned their mother’s murder may have been preventable; the day she was killed, Mitchell had been expected in court hours earlier to face a possible prison sentence in connection with a brutal assault case from September 2010. A judge had delayed the hearing because key paperwork hadn’t been completed on time.
In that separate case, Mitchell was charged with beating a man near Coe College. Charges included willful injury and causing bodily injury, but Mitchell had remained out on bond.
In an article published May 4, 2011, Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley said Mitchell had faced dozens of charges over the past 15 years for offenses related to assault, theft, drug and traffic crimes, and was well-known by local law enforcement officials. Prosecutors said Mitchell had a history of mental health problems that caused him to act irrationally.
Nonetheless, a judge significantly reduced Mitchell’s bond after he was arrested in an assault case last fall over the objections of prosecutors, which allowed his mother to bail him out, according to court records reviewed Wednesday by The Associated Press.
Mitchell was charged with felony forgery weeks after his release, but the same judge again allowed him to remain free, records show.
Mitchell had been expected to appear in court April 29 to plead guilty to a felony willful injury charge. He also was to be sentenced in the case, in which he was accused of using a wooden yard tool to beat a man who was watching a football game at Coe College on Sept. 25.
Assistant Linn County Attorney Jason Besler said he believed that Judge Mitchell Turner likely would have followed prosecutors’ prison recommendation given Mitchell’s extensive prior criminal history. He said the charge carried a maximum of 5 years behind bars.
The delay kept the suspect free just long enough to leave a large, close family grieving and remembering a woman who loved giving rides to people, even in rough parts of the city.
Less than two months after Stickley’s murder, 22-year-old Dexter Lashun “Big Ham” Meeks was shot to death June 26 in the same neighborhood near the front door of his apartment building. His killer has never been apprehended.
The tangled path to Mitchell’s first-degree murder and first-degree robbery trial took numerous detours.
From the beginning, there were several continuances.
Mitchell’s first trial in August 2012 ended in mistrial during the jury selection process after the prosecutor had a serious medical condition and couldn’t continue the trial.
More continuances followed.
The trial — moved from Linn County to Story County based on pretrial publicity — eventually began jury selection on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in Nevada, Iowa.
For two weeks, jury members listened to and tried to process the following testimony:
As often happens in murder trials, defense attorneys put the victim’s character on trial rather than defending the defendant.
Somewhere, lost in all the defense’s fabricated suppositions, were two indisputable facts:
- Stickley had no criminal history.
- Stickley’s toxicology report, performed during her autopsy, was negative for any drugs or alcohol.
No evidence was ever presented that Stickley used or sold drugs. She’d never even violated any cab company policies.
When not working, the victim did indeed pursue activities: Painting. Camping. Fishing. Visiting Cedar Rapids’ many parks. Being outdoors. Spending time with her children and grandchildren.
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, a Story County jury acquitted Johnathan Mitchell of both first-degree murder and first-degree robbery charges.
After the hearing concluded, he hugged defense attorney Tyler Johnston.
Johnston and Assistant Linn County Attorney Nic Scott declined comment after the verdict.
Petersen, who said it was a struggle to convey his complex feelings and thoughts within an interview, did sit down with the Gazette for a story published Nov. 17, 2013.
“The primary feeling is despair, as a son, after the not-guilty verdict,” said Petersen, who’d worried about crime in the Cedar Rapids neighborhood and previously tried to talk his mother into moving to Wisconsin to live with him and his family. Stickley had told him she didn’t fear the area and wasn’t ready to move.
Petersen said he wondered how the justice system could not hold a person accountable for his mother’s murder, but also said he didn’t fault the Cedar Rapids police investigators or Assistant Linn County Attorney Nic Scott, all of whom, he believes, did their jobs. He also didn’t want to discredit the jury.
Based on the jurors’ feedback that Scott obtained, Petersen said he didn’t think they believed some of the state’s witnesses.
“As Nic Scott said (in his closing argument), my mother didn’t get to choose who witnessed her death,” Petersen told the Gazette. “There were two felons who were witnesses, and I don’t think they told the whole truth until the end. There was some truth but not (everything).”
Benjamin Owens, a convicted drug dealer, had changed his account of what happened from the time of his police interviews and depositions to the time of trial.
The defense claimed Owens only provided testimony to help himself in a federal drug case.
The Gazette said they’d contacted jurors after the trial, but they’d either declined to make a comment or didn’t return phone messages.
Petersen said the most frustrating part is that the law seems “lopsided” toward the defendant.
“I know they have rights and should have the right to defend themselves and make the prosecution prove its case,” he said in the Nov. 17 interview, “But it seems like they should also be accountable.”
Petersen said it was painful to hear the defense creating its own false facts about his mother, and that [the family] had to explain things to his mother’s grandkids.
The last time Petersen saw his mother, the Gazette reported, may have been fate stepping in.
“We had planned to drive down on Mother’s Day, like the year before, but at the last minute decided to surprise her on Easter Sunday,” Petersen said.
His mother was killed five days later.
Immediately following the not-guilty verdict, Mitchell was taken out of the courtroom and back to the Linn County Jail to await his next trial for the 2010 beating of the man near Coe College.
Stickley’s family established a group page on Facebook — In Loving Memory of Cathy Stickley — where family members and friends may share thoughts, memories and photos of “Mimi.”
On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, federal prosecutors indicted Mitchell, 38, of Cedar Rapids, on charges of “violently” robbing Stickley. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
On Thursday, August 31, 2017, a federal judge ruled Mitchell finally competent to stand trial, although Christopher Nathan, Mitchell’s lawyer, asked that the court be closed for discussion about setting a new trial date because it involves trial strategy that he didn’t want to make public at this time.
U.S. Magistrate Kelly Mahoney, presiding by video conference closed the hearing and then reopened it to announce the trial would be set for sometime in 2018. No other issues were discussed.
Catherine Ann (Boyle) Stickley was born Jan. 7, 1957, in Cedar Rapids, and was a lifelong resident. She owned and operated a taxi cab for Century Cab Company.
Cathy was an avid painter and many of her paintings hang in her children’s homes today. She loved being outdoors, especially camping, fishing and visiting the many wonderful parks in Cedar Rapids.
She died Friday, April 29, 2011.
A celebration of Cathy’s life was held from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 7, 2011, at Outlook Pavilion at Ellis Park. Papich-Kuba Chapel West served the family. Burial was at Cedar Memorial Park Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.
Cathy’s survivors included four children, Christopher Petersen and wife Amanda, Dawn Stickley, Tiffany Stickley and David Stickley; five grandchildren, Tiara Petersen, Monica Raue, Devin Barnard, Tannon Petersen and Caleb Stickley; another grandchild to be born in October; a brother, Leo and wife Linda, who was Cathy’s lifelong friend; and five nieces and nephews.
Cathy also was survived by lifelong friend and fishing buddy, Shirley.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Neville and Betty (Nemec) Boyle; a sister, Cheryl Adamson; brothers, Patrick and James Boyle; and a nephew, James Boyle.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions were to be sent to Cathy’s family, c/o Papich-Kuba Janeba Chapel West, 1604 J St. SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404.
From KCRG-TV9 — Family: Woman’s Death Is ‘An Act of Evil’ — Airdate April 30, 2011
From KCRG-TV9 — “Find Not Guilty” — Airdate Oct. 23, 2013