Robert Howard

Robert Howard (Contributed photo)

The Iowa Supreme Court is granting a convicted Muscatine child molester a new trial after deciding a detective crossed the line in promising him leniency in exchange for his confession.

Robert A. Howard, 22, confessed in 2010 to sexually abusing his girlfriend’s 17-month-old son. A jury heard his confession after the district court denied his motion to have it suppressed.

The jury found him guilty of second-degree sexual abuse and child endangerment. A divided Iowa Court of Appeals later affirmed his convictions and 25-year prison sentence.

According to its decision Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that “the detective’s questioning crossed the line into an improper promise of leniency under our long-standing precedents, rendering Howard’s subsequent confession inadmissable.”

It goes on to call the promise of leniency a “police tactic” that can “induce false confessions.”

Records state that Howard and his girlfriend took her son to the doctor’s office on Jan. 14, 2010, after discovering blood in his diaper. During the examination of the infant, the doctor saw a cut near the top of the child’s anus as well as bruising, swelling and signs of blood flow to the area that had recently increased, records state.

The doctor later testified at Howard’s trial that she thought the bleeding was caused by blunt penetration trauma, records state. She also determined that the injuries occurred within several hours of the child being brought to the clinic, records state.

Howard and his girlfriend were in a relationship for six months, and Howard was spending three to four nights a week at his girlfriend’s parents’ home, where she lived with her child, records state.

He spent Jan. 13, 2010, there, the night before they took the child to see the doctor, records state.

On Jan. 14, his girlfriend left him alone with the child at her parents’ house for about 20 minutes while she went to retrieve a key from her mother, who was at work, records state. While she was at her mother’s workplace, she received a call from Howard, who said he noticed blood in the child’s diaper while he was changing him, records state.

The girlfriend returned home and found her child lying on his stomach in his crib, screaming, while Howard was lying on the floor, records state. After she saw the blood, she called the doctor, and before they left, Howard took a shower and changed his clothes, records state.

Following the doctor’s examination, the doctor contacted the Iowa Department of Human Services as a mandatory reporter under Iowa law because she suspected the child’s injuries were caused by child abuse, records state.

At his trial, Howard denied having sexual contact with the child, records state.

He testified that he confessed to police because he wanted to prevent the child from being taken from his girlfriend, adding that if the injuries were left unknown, the child wouldn’t be allowed to return home with his mother, records state.

The appeals court dissenting opinion concluded that Howard’s confession was inadmissible because he confessed as a result of “the officer’s deliberate ruse.” The officer implied that treatment in lieu of incarceration would follow, that Howard would have the ability to make plans for the next five years of his life, that he would be released no matter what he confessed and that he would be permitted to rejoin his girlfriend and her child, records state.


The Iowa Supreme Court is granting a convicted Muscatine child molester a new trial after deciding a detective crossed the line in promising him leniency in exchange for his confession.

Robert A. Howard, 22, confessed in 2010 to sexually abusing his girlfriend’s 17-month-old son. A jury heard his confession after the district court denied his motion to have it suppressed.

The jury found him guilty of second-degree sexual abuse and child endangerment. A divided Iowa Court of Appeals later affirmed his convictions and 25-year prison sentence.

According to its decision Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that “the detective’s questioning crossed the line into an improper promise of leniency under our long-standing precedents, rendering Howard’s subsequent confession inadmissable.”

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