Cedar Rapids stabbing victim identifies attempted murder suspect as attacker

Victim testifies he's receiving ongoing medical care from June attack

Trish Mehaffey
Published: February 4 2014 | 12:30 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:08 am in
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UPDATE: Frederick Rottmiller remembers feeling something “funny in his stomach” as he tried to open his truck passenger door for his neighbor, Theodore Gathercole.

The next thing he remembers is Gathercole putting his hand in his mouth. Gathercole was trying to hold down his tongue.

“I thought to keep me from getting air,” Rottmiller said.

On the stand Tuesday, Rottmiller, 72, identified Gathercole as the person who stabbed him in the stomach, eye and throat on June 16, 2013. He said he didn’t have any doubt.

Rottmiller said he knew Gathercole, who lived in the building with a woman, but they didn’t talk much, just to say “Hello” as they passed each other in the hall or outside. Rottmiller was the maintenance man for the building.

Gathercole asked Rottmiller for $20 the afternoon of June 15, 2013 when Rottmiller went to his apartment. Gathercole was doing some maintenance repair on his own and Rottmiller came to check on it. Rottmiller said he was busy, so he gave him the money and left.

Rottmiller said he didn’t see Gathercole again until about 3 a.m., when he knocked at his door. Gathercole asked for money again. He wanted to go downtown, so Rottmiller said he would give him a ride instead of more money.

Rottmiller had to get dressed and met Gathercole at his truck parked in the alley. He went around to open the passenger for him and that’s when he was attacked. The next thing he remembers is tasting grass and gravel in his mouth after he went down. He was lying halfway underneath his pickup.

“He was (over him) face to face with me,” Rottmiller said. “He said ‘I know I’m going to prison for this.’ He didn’t say anything else that made much sense.”

Rottmiller said at some point he saw a knife “longer than a paring knife but smaller than a butcher knife.” He estimated it had a 6 to 8 inch blade.

Rottmiller said Gathercole also had his cell phone and said he was going to call 911 and then left. Rottmiller said nobody came. He remembers banging on the bottom of his truck, trying to make noise for help.

“I was there for what seemed like an awful long time,” Rottmiller said.

He finally heard a man’s voice saying “Do you need help” Rottmiller said. After that he remembers being taken in an ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital.

Rottmiller said his wallet with about $200 and his cell phone was gone, but he couldn’t have taken his wallet out of his pocket because he couldn’t move his right leg.

Rottmiller told the jury as a result of the attack he has had five surgeries and will need more in the future. He has a spinal cord injury and can’t walk, he was blind in one eye and about 6 to 8 inches of his intestine had to be removed.

Rottmiller said he was taken from St. Luke’s to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, then spent July through December 2013 in a veteran’s hospital in Minneapolis undergoing surgeries and treatment. He still has to have physical therapy and home health care.

In earlier testimony:

Rottmiller was stabbed several times and left for dead June 16, 2013, First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said Tuesday during his opening statement in Gathercole's attempted murder trial.

“Injuries designed to kill, but he survived,” Maybanks told the jurors. “He was stabbed in the gut, his neck and his eye.”

Maybanks warned the jurors that there wouldn’t be any DNA evidence, fingerprints or even a weapon left at the scene to pin it on the attacker like on the television show CSI.

However, there will be the “most powerful piece of evidence” – the victim will identify the attacker as Theodore Gathercole.

Linn County Chief Public Defender Brian Sissel, Gathercole’s attorney, said in his opening, he doesn’t doubt that Rottmiller will point the finger at Gathercole. Gathercole asked Rottmiller for money earlier that evening but Gathercole then left the area and wasn’t around when the stabbing happened.

Theodore Gathercole, 51, is charged with attempted murder, first-degree robbery and willful injury. He is accused of stabbing  Rottmiller several times, causing life-threatening injuries, as Rottmiller was walking with Gathercole to his car in the 1500 block alley between 1st and 2nd Avenue SE, June 16, 2013, according to a criminal complaint. Gathercole asked Rottmiller for money for transportation but Rottmiller agreed to give him a ride and Gathercole attacked him.

The trial is expected to wrap up this week. Rottmiller will take the stand later today.

Maybanks said Gathercole “violently attacked him because of the most basic human desire – greed. There’s no other reasonable explanation for why he did it except money.”

Maybanks said Rottmiller had given Gathercole $20 earlier that evening and then Gathercole came to his apartment about 3 a.m. asking for more. He said he needed money for transportation, so Rottmiller said he would instead give him a ride.

Rottmiller then met Gathercole by his truck and when he went open the door for Gathercole, Gathercole stabbed him and left him in a pool of blood underneath the truck.

Sissel said there’s no evidence that Gathercole is the one who attacked Rottmiller. The police “contaminated” the crime scene. They picked up Rottmiller’s cell phone and destroyed any possible evidence. They left the scene open to public for hours and then decided to come back and try to investigate.

Police tested knives found in Gathercole’s apartment but no blood was found, Sissel said. There was no bloody clothing found. Gathercole was arrested three days later and has "adamantly" denied any involvement in the crime.

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