Police Detail Drug Evidence in Cab Driver Murder Trial

By Trish Mehaffey

Johnathan Mitchell listens to testimony during his trial for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery at the Story County Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in Nevada. Mitchell is charged in the April 2011 death of Century Cab driver Cathy Stickley in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Adam Carros

AMES, Iowa -- A police officer testified Friday that a crack cocaine pipe and several clothing items, including bleached shoes strings, were recovered from trash bags outside Johnathan Mitchell’s home after a cab driver was killed in April 2011.

Cedar Rapids officer Mikel Wambacher testified investigators recovered several items during the search but one of the trash bags outside contained a pipe used for crack cocaine, which the state claims is Mitchell’s motive for the robbery and fatal stabbing of Cathy Stickley April 29, 2011.

Mitchell, 35, of Cedar Rapids, charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery, is accused of stabbing to death Stickley, 55, a Century Cab driver, that night during what started out as a robbery.

Stickley was found face down in a pool of blood by her vehicle in the 1500 block alley between 2nd and 3rd avenues SE, according to testimony. Stickley died from 12 stab wounds to her neck and head.

The trial, in Story County District Court, was moved from Linn County based on pretrial publicity, which Mitchell claimed prevented him from getting a fair and impartial jury.

The trial started Tuesday and is expected to last another week or so. Follow Gazette Reporter Trish Mehaffey’s live coverage from the courtroom as the prosecution continues its case 9 a.m. Monday.

Wambacher also testified about a convicted drug dealer who asked to talk to him May 2, 2011 when he was canvassing the area after the homicide for any additional information. Tommy Collins asked to meet Wambacher away from the scene and said he wanted to talk to another investigator he knew.

Collins said he saw someone in Stickley's cab the night she was killed and he agreed to identified him from a photo line up. He didn’t know Mitchell’s name but identified his photo as the man he saw that night.

“He said he was ‘150 percent’ it was him,” Wambacher said.
Collins even signed a sheet with Mitchell’s photo that he was shown, saying he was 150 percent sure.

In other testimony, several Cedar Rapids police officers testified about responding to Stickley’s homicide and their part in the initial investigation.

Scott asked each officer if they heard any gunshots that night around the time of the homicide because the defense claimed it was a busy night in the high crime neighborhood, where there could be many possible suspects for this crime.

All of the officers said they didn't hear any gunshots that night.
Sarah Smith, Mitchell’s attorney, on cross asked police officer Jesse Moore if he would expect to find a lot of people in this area late at night and a lot of “narcotic activity” and he said yes.

Scott also asked some of the officers if they saw a cab in any of the surveillance tapes they acquired from Hy-Vee on 1st Avenue SE, which is near the crime scene.

The officers asked said they didn’t see any cabs on the tape.

The defense claimed in its opening statement that Stickley might have been involved in drug activity because she didn’t pick up a fare she called in but instead went the opposite way and ended up in that alley where she was killed.
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