Justin Marshall Convicted of First-degree Murder
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Justin Marshall has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the October 2009 shooting death of Iowa City landlord John Versypt.
Marshall, 22, was accused in the shooting death of Versypt, 64, of Cordova, Ill. According to police, Versypt was a landlord for units in the Broadway Condominium complex, and he was checking on his properties when he was fatally shot during an attempted robbery on Oct. 8, 2009.
Earlier Thursday, jurors had asked another question of attorneys as they near their 13th hour of deliberation in the 13th day of Marshall’s trial in Iowa City.
The 12-member jury, which asked Wednesday for a clarification of what it means to commit a crime through joint criminal conduct, asked Thursday for a clarification on felony murder.
A person commits felony murder by killing someone while participating in the commission of a forcible felony, according to Iowa law. A person convicted of felony murder is guilty of first-degree murder, punishable by life in prison.
Upon hearing the jurors’ question, defense attorney Thomas Gaul said the jury is clearly prejudiced and now confused by an “erroneous” jury instruction about joint criminal conduct and aiding and abetting.
“The note clearly shows that prejudice is now attached to Marshall’s case,” he said. “(The jurors) have indicated doubt that the state has proven that Marshall is the one who shot John Versypt. At the most, they are thinking he engaged in joint criminal conduct or aiding and abetting.”
Gaul said he understands the jury’s confusion.
“The reason they are having trouble understanding joint criminal conduct and aiding and abetting is that the state has presented no evidence of that at trial,” he said.
Prosecutors responded by asking the judge to simply instruct jurors to do a careful rereading of the instructions before them. That is how the judge instructed them.
The jurors failed to reach a verdict following a full day of deliberations Wednesday and part of Tuesday.
The 12-member jury – which includes six men and six women – ordered lunch in Wednesday to continue deliberations, and they asked just one question of attorneys late in the day. They wanted a more clear definition of what it means to commit a crime through joint criminal conduct.
During jury instructions, the judge said jurors could find Marshall guilty of first-degree murder if they find that he committed the act through joint criminal conduct – when two or more people act together to commit a public offense.
The defense initially objected to that instruction and maintained their objection Wednesday. Following the jury question, the judge instructed jurors that they have all the information they need in the jury instructions if they reread them closely.
Jurors resumed deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Marshall was among three people arrested in the killing. Charles Thompson, 20, was first in February 2010, followed by Marshall in July 2011 and then Courtney White, 25, in October 2011.
All three men were charged with first-degree murder, but Thompson’s case ended in a mistrial and he subsequently pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony against Marshall.
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