In early 2015 in the Fremont County District Court, Brian Heath Davis was found guilty of Murder in the First Degree for the July 18, 2009 death of his girlfriend, Holly Durben, and sentenced to life in prison. Davis appealed that decision, and on January 11, 2017 the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the Court’s decision (denying Davis’ appeal), but left room for Davis to file an action for postconviction relief.

In early 2015 in the Fremont County District Court, Brian Heath Davis was found guilty of Murder in the First Degree for the July 18, 2009 death of his girlfriend, Holly Durben, and sentenced to life in prison.  Davis appealed that decision,  and on January 11, 2017 the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the Court’s decision (denying Davis’ appeal), but left room for Davis to file an action for postconviction relief.


In the 2015 case, Davis stood accused of murdering his girlfriend, who had been choked and shot in the head, and Davis’ defense was that she shot herself.


According to law enforcement reports, on the morning of July 18, 2009, Davis reported to local dispatch  that Durben  shot  herself  in  the  head.   When law enforcement officers arrived at the farmhouse shared by Davis and Durben, deputies found Durben’s body in an upstairs bedroom, lying on the bed  with  a massive gunshot  wound  to  the  left  side  of  her head.  “Durben’s left hand  was  on  the  pistol  grip  of a  twelve-gauge  shotgun with  an  eighteen-inch 3 barrel, and  her left thumb  rested  on  the  trigger.”  The only identifiable fingerprints on the gun belonged to Davis.


In court during the 2015 trial, Judge Timothy O'Grady said that “credible evidence had been submitted to show that Durben was not suicidal on July 18, 2009, but had been seeking safety instead, and that Davis' four different statements and reactions were contrived, minimized conflict between Davis and Durben, and showed that he had manipulated the crime scene by moving the gun on the scene.”


Davis filed motions for a new trial and arrest of judgement  before sentencing in the 2015 trial.  As the Hamburg Reporter  previously reported, Davis believed his case prejudiced by testimony of the medical examiner.  “Davis' attorneys had alleged among other things that his case was prejudiced by the testimony of Dr. Jerri McLemore that the placement of the wound was unusual for suicide. Davis' attorneys said they didn't know she would be testifying about that or they'd have gotten an expert or at least reviewed statistics on locations of gunshot wounds in suicides.”  Judge O’Grady overruled the motions for new trial and arrest of judgement, and Davis was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
Davis promptly filed an appeal of the Fremont County District Court decision with the Iowa Court of Appeals on April 16, 2015.


On January 11, 2017 the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the Fremont County District Court decision, but left the door open for Davis to seek postconviction relief.


According to the Iowa Court of Appeals decision summary, Davis had filed his appeal based on four assertions that stated:
n there was insufficient evidence;
n the judge ruled incorrectly in allowing certain expert-opinion testimony and evidence of his prior criminal behavior;
n his motion for a new trial was improperly denied, and
n ineffective assistance of counsel in that Davis’ attorney failed to object to:  the re-call of a witness, the medical examiner’s expert-opinion testimony, and statements made by the prosecutor in closing arguments.


The Court of Appeals opinion, drafted by Honorable Mary Tabor, found “ample evidence” to support a finding of murder in the first degree, and no abuse of discretion in the denial of a new trial or the lower court’s evidentiary rulings.  As for Davis’ assertion that he had ineffective counsel, the Court of Appeals found no error in Davis’ attorney’s actions regarding not objecting to the recall of a witness or to the prosecutor’s closing argument statements.


The claim that Davis’ counsel failed to protect him during the medical examiner’s opinion testimony about the shotgun wound location on Durben’s body, however, was neither denied or affirmed.  The Court of Appeals declared that “further development of the record” would be necessary to decide on that claim.


This means that Davis can now file for post-conviction relief if he so chooses, based on his claim of ineffective counsel, for his attorney’s failure to object to the medical examiner’s “expert-opinion” testimony in the original case.


According to information found on the Iowa Bar Association’s website, a postconviction relief action is actually a civil suit dealing with a criminal matter.  The usual claim is that the conviction violates the U.S. or Iowa Constitutions or laws.  Davis could try to claim the ineffective assistance of his attorney, saying he failed to perform his essential duties and prejudice resulted from that failure.  More specifically, his attorney’s performance would have to have fallen short of reasonable professional assistance, and it would have to be shown that the verdict would likely have been different if it hadn’t been for the attorney’s substandard assistance.


As of this date, Davis had not yet filed an action for postconviction relief.