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Appeals court upholds King’s convictions

Tanner King

A Fort Dodge man who was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in 2019 will remain in prison after an attempt to appeal his conviction to the Iowa Court of Appeals was unsuccessful.

Tanner Jon King, 30, was convicted by a Story County jury in December 2019 of the October 2018 slayings of brothers Marion and El Dominic Rhodes, of Fort Dodge.

The Rhodes brothers were gunned down in downtown Fort Dodge on Oct. 22, 2018. The brothers’ bodies were found in an alley behind King’s apartment building near Second Avenue North and Ninth Street.

King was identified as a suspect, questioned and eventually charged with the double murder.

The trial was moved to Story County after an impartial jury was unable to be selected in Webster County.

After a three-week-long trial, the jury deliberated for about 14 hours before finding King guilty of the two counts of first-degree murder on Dec. 4, 2019. He was later sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole and has been incarcerated at the Iowa State Penitentiary at Fort Madison.

The Court of Appeals filed its ruling on Wednesday, upholding the two convictions after finding that the District Court had correctly determined certain evidence offered by defense during trial was hearsay, and thus inadmissable in court.

King was appealing his convictions on the grounds that law enforcement failed to follow up on leads that would have led them to conclude another person, Cletio Clark, committed the murders, and that the District Court erred in its decision to not allow testimony from a witness that would have included “word on the street” information about Clark allegedly being the killer.

The theory of the defense at trial was that Johnny Young, a gang member from Kansas City, had put out a hit on the Rhodes brothers because Marion Rhodes had snitched on him and got him sent to prison.

Young was a member of the same gang as Clark, the Vice Lords. A witness, Jeremy Mack, told investigators that Clark and Young were involved in the murders. Mack was Marion Rhodes’ fiance’s brother.

In King’s appeal, he argued that the trial court misapplied the “Bowden defense” — a defense based on Massachusetts case law not currently adopted in Iowa — during trial by not allowing testimony from barbershop owner Priest Wilson about the “word on the street” rumors he had heard in his barbershop about the hit Young had put out on the brothers.

King’s appellate attorney argued his case in front of the Iowa Court of Appeals on June 3 at the Arrowhead Resort in Okoboji.

In the 18-page ruling on the appeal, ,Iowa Court of Appeals Judge Mary Tabor wrote that “in addressing King’s claim, we decline his implied invitation to adopt a new defense based on Massachusetts law. Instead, we see our role as applying Iowa law to decide if he is entitled to a new trial because the court limited Wilson’s testimony.”

Tabor wrote that the appeals court found that King’s attempt to admit testimony from Wilson on rumors Wilson had heard in his barbershop was not to show that investigators failed to look into the lead about Clark.

“Rather, King aimed to expose the jury to more local gossip supporting his alternative-suspect theory,” Tabor wrote. “…King’s ‘real purpose’ was to show investigators made the wrong choice between two suspects. “Because the rumors Wilson heard were offered for their truth, they were inadmissible hearsay.”

The Court of Appeals also found that even if the District Court had erred in limiting Wilson’s testimony, it would have been harmless because Mack was allowed to testify to similar rumors that suggested Clark was involved in the slayings.

Though King’s convictions were affirmed by the Iowa Court of Appeals, he may still seek further review by the Iowa Supreme Court, though the Iowa Supreme Court grants just a fraction of the further review applications it receives.

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