Convicted Killer Professes Innocence at Sentencing
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Moments before being sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, Justin Marshall looked into the eyes of the family of John Versypt and said he did not kill their husband, father and brother.
“I am innocent,” Marshall said during his sentencing hearing Friday. “I don’t know who did this, who did such a horrific act to someone else … and I’m sorry for your guys’ loss.”
But, he repeated, he’s innocent.
Turning back to Johnson County District Court Judge Sean McPartland, Marshall received his inevitable life sentence in prison. His attorney, Thomas Gaul, did not make any statements on his behalf as state law mandates a life term for a first-degree murder conviction.
Immediately after Marshall's sentencing hearing, one of his two co-defendants, Courtney White, 25, pleaded guilty to tampering with witnesses or jurors. That means his first-degree murder charge will be dropped and he will be released from jail pending paperwork with an old probation violation.
White has been in jail on the murder charge for about 18 months, and court documents indicate that the amount of time he has served exceeds the amount of time he would have spent in prison on the tampering charge.
According to new trial information filed Friday on White's case, he "called an individual who had provided a statement to police about John Versypt's death and told her that if his name got brought up that he was going to have to '(expletive) someone up.'"
Charles Thompson, 20, was the first person arrested on murder charges in the shooting, but his case ended in a mistrial, and he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to time served earlier this year.
Marshall was convicted Feb. 6 of first-degree murder after police said he attempted to rob Versypt on Oct. 8, 2009, and ended up shooting him in the hand and the head. Versypt was a landlord in the Broadway Condominium complex and was hanging no-smoking and no-loitering signs when he was killed, according to police.
Before Marshall was sentenced Friday, Versypt’s wife Janet Versypt spoke of the pain she has endured in the loss of her “husband, best friend and favorite travel companion.”
“He was a hard worker, and a great landlord, as he tried to help others have a safe and comfortable home,” Janet Versypt said. “I am so mad he was killed trying to keep others safe.”
Since his death, Janet Versypt said her husband has missed his son’s wedding and graduation, and the birth of his first grandchild. He has another one due at the end of May, she said.
“He would have been a great grandpa,” she said.
In a statement from John Versypt’s daughter, Jennifer Wakefield, she talked about the hole left in her life.
“I am so heartbroken that my children will never know how wonderful their grandpa is,” she said. “I will never get to see him melt as he holds his newborn granddaughter.”
Wakefield said her father’s death was a senseless tragedy and now, perhaps, Marshall will “begin to know what loss is.”
“I hope that his heart breaks when he realizes he will not get to spend time with his children,” she said. “My heart at times breaks for him. He did not just end my father’s life, he gave up his too.”
Marshall’s attorney requested a new trial in the case, saying the judge gave an erroneous jury instruction that resulted in the guilty conviction. A judge on Thursday denied that request, but Marshall is allowed to appeal his conviction and sentence.
During Marshall’s trial, prosecutors said the suspect admitted to three inmates in the Muscatine County Jail that he was the gunman and that he killed Versypt in a robbery gone wrong. Other witnesses corroborated facts that Marshall confessed to while in jail, according to prosecutors.
But his defense team argued that authorities collected almost no physical evidence against Marshall and that the jailhouse witnesses could have been lying to get time off their sentences.
Treasa Swailes, who has a grandchild fathered by Marshall, said she doesn’t think prosecutors proved Marshall’s involvement and believes he’s innocent. She said she’s hopeful he’ll one day be freed.
“We’re sorry for their loss and we hope someday that Iowa City’s finest will find the shooter so they can have peace,” Swailes said.
Janet Versypt said it was painful to hear Marshall pronounce his innocence.
“It kind of broke my heart,” she said. “A jury of his peers said he was guilty and showed he was guilty … and it did hurt very much when he said that.”
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