Des Moines — The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling made by Judge Martha Mertz regarding an application for post-conviction relief made by convicted kidnapper Michael Leonard Whitworth. Judge Thomas N. Bower wrote the opinion, which affirmed Mertz's ruling on March 26.
A jury convicted Whitworth of the crimes of first-degree kidnapping and third-degree sexual abuse. He held a mentally "low-functioning" woman against her will from the evenings of Oct. 12-13, 2005. She was first held at her own apartment, then his, then back at hers.
Whitworth claimed the two had a prior consensual sexual relationship. During this incident, police found evidence that he had beaten and sexually assaulted the victim during the kidnapping.
The case went to trial in 2006. The kidnapping conviction comes with a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
In response to his conviction and sentencing, Whitworth filed an application for post-conviction relief. He based his application on a claim that he had ineffective counsel at trial.
A hearing was held in October 2011 in which the two men who defended Whitworth in the original trial offered testimony regarding Whitworth's defense.
“For the most part, this was a he said, she said case,” Defense Attorney David Pargulski testified at the October 2011 hearing. He added that he felt the victim was not credible.
He and co-counsel in the criminal trial, Chris Kragnes, hired investigator Scott Gratias to aid in Whitworth’s defense. Pargulski, Kragnes and Gratias all testified at the hearing that they discovered the victim had multiple sexual partners at the time of the assault.
However, they were not allowed to discuss this at Whitworth’s criminal trial.
Judge Gary Kimes granted a “rape shield” during the trial. This precluded the defense from discussing the victim’s sexual history with Whitworth or anyone else. Pargulski and Kragnes believe that if they had been able to discuss this, the jury may have arrived at a different decision.