Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013, 8:49 pm

Davenport man convicted in bridge ramming to get new trial

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By Rachel Warmke,

A Davenport man convicted in December 2011 of assault on a police officer with a dangerous weapon will get a new trial on that charge after an Iowa Court of Appeals ruling Wednesday.

The appellate court also dismissed a possession of a controlled substance conviction against Michael Linn Cross, 20, ruling there was "insufficient evidence" to support it.

In January 2012, Mr. Cross was sentenced to five years in prison for the assault and possession charges. The charges were to be served concurrently.

The charges stemmed from an Aug. 7, 2011, incident that began with a disturbance at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport. At trial, a responding officer testifiedhe thought he heard a gun fired that night and said several witnesses claimed the shooter fled in a white Chevrolet Blazer.

A while later, police surrounded a white sports utility vehicle driven by Mr. Cross near the 2nd Street entrance ramp to Centennial Bridge. Mr. Cross was accused of using his vehicle as a battering ram in an apparent attempt to escape. Footage from squad cameras showed a white SUV striking one vehicle, then reversing rapidly and striking one behind the SUV.

Mr. Cross was shot three times by police who, during a subsequent search of the vehicle, found a bag of marijuana, records state. Althoughnot immediately taken into custody or charged, Mr. Cross was arrested the following month after police said they found 2.75 grams of crack cocaine during a traffic stop.

Mr. Cross petitioned to have his convictions revoked, arguing his case was prejudiced when the trial jury was informed about out-of-court statements made by fairground witnesses.

The appellate court agreed Wednesday, claiming the district court "abused its discretion" and calling it "troubling" that evidence "focused repeatedly" on the shots-fired incident at the fairgrounds, for which Mr. Cross had not been charged.

"We believe that in this case the testimony allowed ... went beyond what was necessary to explain the officers' conduct and prejudiced the defendant," the appellate justices ruled.

Focusing on witness statements at the fairgrounds"likely influenced the jury to base its decision" on the "implicit assertion" Mr. Cross may have been involved in the incident there, rather than determining his level of culpability later at the bridge, justices said. Only limited,generalized evidence about the events leading up to the bridge incident should have been permissible, they wrote.

On Wednesday, Scott County Attorney Mike Walton said he believed information from the fairground incident was pertinent to explain what police did on the bridge.

"I thought the evidence was important to emphasize the seriousness of the incident and why the police responded in the manner that they did," he said. "The appellate court did find that some of that evidence was admissible, but not to the extent used."

The appellate court also agreed Wednesday to throw out the drug possession charge against Mr. Cross, contending there was not enough evidence to prove he "knowingly or intentionally possessed the bag of marijuana."

The justices noted Mr. Cross never admitted to possessing the drugs, no fingerprints were found on the baggie and other people were in the vehicle at the time.

Mr. Walton said the case could be further reviewed by the supreme court or remanded back to his jurisdiction, where it could be several months before the case for the assault charge starts over. Mr. Cross, who is serving 10 years on a charge for possession of crack cocaine, remains in prison until the matter is resolved.

"It is our intention at this point to retry it," Mr. Walton said. He acknowledged the challenge of having some evidence deemed inadmissible.

"I don't know whether it will change the outcome or not," he said.