WOODBURY COUNTY – In a ruling filed Nov. 19, a judge with Iowa’s Third Judicial District denied James Christensen’s second application for post-conviction relief.
Christensen, a former Creston police chief, was found guilty in May 2009 for aiding and abetting John Sickels, Creston’s former assistant police chief, who was found guilty of second-degree sexual assault in the 2008 rape of a female bartender at the Crestmoor Golf Club in Creston. Christensen and Sickels, who were tried together, were both sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Following the conviction, Christensen filed an appeal, and in November 2010, the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. An appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court was ignored as the court declined to review the case.
In August 2011, Christensen filed his first application for post-conviction relief, which was denied in April 2015, in both the district and appellate courts.
A second application for post-conviction relief was filed in March 2017, in which Christensen’s attorney cited newly-discovered evidence, such as Facebook posts and a recorded phone call, contradicts the victim’s trial testimony, which she delivered under oath.
On Sept. 20, Christensen’s March application appeared before the court for consideration. During the hearing, the court heard testimony from both sides and the matter was taken under consideration for a later ruling at its conclusion. Upon review of the briefs, records and applicable law, the court entered the following opinion Nov. 19:
Facebook posts were presented by Christensen’s attorney as elicit evidence in court in an effort to prove the victim fabricated her story about having non-consensual sex with Sickels.
The Facebook posts, which were made in the years following the initial trial, indicated the victim had been subjected to domestic violence by her then live-in boyfriend, which she denied during the trial. Christensen’s attorney argued that the evidence contradicted her testimony under oath. In opposition, the state argued the online posts lacked materiality and would not have changed the outcome of the trial, to which the court agreed.
According to court documents, the posts only indicate that the victim continued to date and be subjected to physical violence by her then live-in boyfriend after the trial. The abuse was well-documented by collective trial court testimonies and provided nothing in the way of new evidence.
A June 2015 phone recording, in which the victim called an acquaintance of hers, who is familiar with the parties to the case and trial proceedings, was presented as additional evidence.
During the phone recording, the victim “makes several statements” claiming she was raped by both Sickels and Christensen, which Christensen argues the assertions contradict the victim’s trial court testimony in which she claims she was raped by Sickels while Christensen observed. Christensen’s attorney argued the statements qualify as newly discovered evidence demonstrating the victim gave false testimony.
In opposition, the State contended the recorded conversation constitutes inadmissible hearsay and that the substantial evidence in the record of the trial supports the victim’s trial court testimony. The court agreed and ruled the recording as hearsay and does not fall within any recognized exemption, and the statements made by the victim in the recording would not have changed the result of the trial.