The Iowa Court of Appeals overturned a farmer's threat of terrorism conviction Wednesday, ruling that there isn't enough evidence to show he would imminently act on his threat to "blow away" a county Farm Service Agency director.
The case involves Arend Deboer, who placed an angry call to the Rock Rapids branch of the FSA in September 2011. The 60-year-old farmer from Little Rock in northwest Iowa called with questions about the ownership of land his ex-wife had received in their divorce. When he became frustrated with the answers he got during his conversation with Lyon County FSA Executive Director Carol Groen, he told Groen that he would "blow" her and the court "away."
"I don't care if I have to sit in jail, you and the court will give my land back," he added.
Groen reported the conversation to her supervisor and the local sheriff. About 10 days later, Deboer was charged with threat of terrorism and harassment.
A jury found him guilty in May 2012 and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the terrorism threat conviction with a required three-year minimum sentence. He also was sentenced to one year for the harassment charge, which was to be served at the same time as the 15-year term.
He appealed the convictions.
The three-judge appeals court panel found that Iowa's law on threat of terrorism requires a reasonable expectation the act is impending or about to occur, and they were unable to conclude that from the evidence in this case.
The judges said Deboer's statements were intimidating and inappropriate but that the response by the sheriff, Groen, her supervisor and others did not convey an expectation that the threat was imminent.
Deboer's statements "raised nothing more than a mere possibility that action on the threat would occur sometime in the future," they said.
"Upon our review, we do not find substantial evidence of a reasonable expectation or fear of the imminent commission of an act of terrorism," the justices said.
They threw out the conviction and sent the harassment charge back to a Lyon County judge to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to uphold it. If the judge finds there isn't enough evidence, he must overturn the conviction on that charge and order a new trial. If the judge denies Deboer's request for a new trial on that count, the conviction is upheld.
State prison records show Deboer began serving the 15-year sentence for terrorism threat on July 13, 2012. Since that conviction was overturned and he's already nearly served a year required for the harassment, it wasn't immediately clear how much longer he would stay in prison.
Deboer's appellate defenders Vidhya Reddy said she's pleased with the ruling because it grants the relief Deboer was seeking on the terrorism threat charge. She said the prosecutors have 20 days to seek further review from the Iowa Supreme Court, but that the court takes few such reviews.
The local prosecutor, Lyon County Attorney Shayne Mayer did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.