Knoxville — Dr. Bruce Sieleni testified this morning in the post-conviction relief hearing of Steven Dean McGinnis that, even though the doctor had treated McGinnis for years, defense attorneys in McGinnis' 2008 murder case never contacted him.
McGinnis was found guilty in 2009 of the Sept. 21, 2008, murder of Rob Ohl. McGinnis and Ohl knew each other through the VA Medical Centers in Knoxville and Des Moines. They were friends.
A veteran who served in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, McGinnis suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His defense of PTSD playing a role in Ohl's murder has previously been rejected by the court.
Though Sieleni had not treated McGinnis, prior to the murder, since 2004, Sieleni had knowledge of McGinnis' mental condition. Sieleni left the VA's employ in February 2006, to work for the Iowa Department of Corrections. When McGinnis entered DOC custody, Sieleni began seeing him again.
Sieleni describes McGinnis as someone who has greater problems than other patients.
"He has a significant - a very significant - mood disorder," Sieleni testified. He added that McGinnis has flashbacks. There are times McGinnis loses himself among his surroundings and is unaware of what is going on.
The court also heard this morning from Scott Gratias, a private investigator hired by McGinnis' defense. According to Gratias, only a short time prior to the beginning of the murder trial, the State struck witness Robin Matrie from its witness list. This made things difficult for the defense, as part of the strategy they had been developing, for a year, was to implicate Matrie in Ohl's murder.
"I wanted to point the finger at Robins," Gratias said. "I think she played a part in this."
Matrie was a recreation director for the VA prior to the murder. She took the stand this morning as well, and testified that she was friends with McGinnis, and had known him since the 1990s. Because she knew McGinnis prior to the professional relationship developed through the VA, it did not violate the policy regarding fraternization between staff and patients at the time, Matrie testified.
Gratias said that the defense did not add Matrie to its witness list after the State's removal of her. This is because the defense could not have impugned its own witness.
Nicholas Bailey, who is representing McGinnis in the post-conviction relief case, did so this time.
Through his line of questioning, it was established that Matrie was at the scene of the crime. She was the one who made the call to law enforcement to report Ohl's death. Bailey asked if Matrie was at the scene at the time of the murder, which she denied.
Bailey found discrepancies between Matrie's deposition and her testimony this morning. She was asked if she had allowed McGinnis to stay at her home for 6-8 weeks, after McGinnis returned to Iowa after treatment out of state. This is what she had initially told investigators.
"I would dispute that," Matrie said. "It wasn't that long." After being shown a transcript of her deposition, Matrie recanted.
"My memory was a lot better then than it is now," Matrie said. "I can't remember the exact length of time."
Matrie also testified about an incident with Ohl, a year prior to the murder, in which a drunk Ohl said to her, "You f*** patients" (written as read in court) and grabbed her breast at a bar. She said he apologized a couple of days later.
Someone had also reported the relationship between McGinnis and Matrie to the VA. She does not know who it was, though she and McGinnis discussed it and Ohl's name had been mentioned.
In her cross-examination, Assistant County Attorney Tiffany Kragnes asked Matrie if she thought McGinnis would do anything for her. Matrie answered, "No."
Matrie also testified that she did not tell McGinnis about the bar incident with Ohl. She testified that McGinnis, in a conversation with him at the Marion County Jail, told her that he loved her.
"I told him I loved him as a friend," Matrie said.
Kragnes asked Matrie if she shot Ohl. Matrie said no and that she had not fired a gun, with the exception of a bee bee gun as a child. She was also asked whom she thought killed Ohl.
"To my knowledge, Steve did," Matrie said.
Court is in recess until 1 p.m. McGinnis' defense attorney in the murder trial, Richard Phelps, is scheduled to take the stand when court resumes.
The Iowa Supreme Court has already refused to take up McGinnis' case. He has also lost in the appellate process. This case is the last bastion of appeal available on the state level. Judge Brad McCall is presiding over the case. If McCall ultimately rules in McGinnis' favor, McGinnis would get a new trial. If not, McGinnis could apply for post-conviction relief again, but subsequent applications are less likely to move forward.
Look for a full report, including much more of the testimony from today's witnesses, in the Sept. 6 Journal-Express.