First Day of Testimony in Mark Becker Murder Trial

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By Richard Pratt

ALLISON - Fifteen-year-old Brandon Simkins testified through tears on Friday about seeing his football coach shot.

Simkins said Mark Becker entered the temporary weight room at Aplington-Parkersburg High School in Parkersburg on June 24 and pointed a gun “at my head. ... I thought I was dead.”

“I closed my eyes. I heard gunshots,” Simkins told the 10-man, six-woman jury. He said he heard five shots. When he opened his eyes, he saw that coach Ed Thomas had been shot.

Simkins was the first student to testify Friday in the first-degree murder trial of Becker, 24, in Butler County District Court. The day was filled with dramatic, emotional testimony, with five other Aplington-Parkersburg students recounting the shooting. All identified Becker as the shooter.

Thomas coached football in Parkersburg for 34 years, winning two state titles and sending four players to the NFL. He held leadership positions in his church and in Parkersburg, helping the town and school rebuild after a devastating tornado in 2008. About 2,500 attended his funeral.

Becker is claiming insanity as his defense.

It’s a defense that the prosecutor, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown, attacked in his opening statement in the small courtroom, where every seat was filled with spectators, including members of the Becker and Thomas families, who sat on opposite sides of the courtroom.

“Mark Becker chose to take a gun and go shoot Ed Thomas in the weight room,” Brown said. “He made this choice consciously and with full understanding and appreciation of the consequences of his acts.”

Brown said Becker had stayed the night before with his parents. When his parents left the house, he went to the basement, put on gray coveralls and used a pair of deer antlers to break into a gun cabinet. He took a 22-caliber revolver from the gun cabinet and loaded it.

Brown said Becker then went outside to practice shooting the gun. He took a practice shot at a birdhouse but missed it. He would later tell police he then knew he would have to get close to shoot Thomas, Brown said.

The prosecutor said Becker drove to Aplington and then Parkersburg, looking for Thomas. The loaded gun was on the passenger seat before he decided to hide it in the car’s map pocket. He asked several people, including an assistant principal and custodians, where to find Thomas.

One of the custodians, Brown said, reported having a “normal” conversation with Becker.

When Becker arrived at the weight room, he left the gun in the car and poked his head in the room to see if Thomas was there. He then returned to his car to get “the piece,” as he called the gun, Brown said.

“He goes back in and walks straight across and pulls the gun out and guns him (Thomas) down in front of kids,” Brown said.

The prosecutor said Becker shot Thomas five times — in the face, head and knee, with one bullet hitting Thomas’ hand. He then kicked Thomas and said, “F--- you, old man.”

Becker left, and the 20 students in the weight room ran out and called for help.

When a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the Beckers’ home, he found Becker sitting in his car, with the gun hanging out the car window. Becker dropped the gun and said he was going to turn himself in.

Becker had blood on his coveralls, Brown said. He told the deputy, “Ed is done, and I am done with Ed.”

All of the evidence, Brown said, will show that Becker was angry with Thomas and felt he’d been wronged.

Brown said the prosecution will not argue that Becker is mentally ill: “But the evidence will be in this case — if I say it once, I’ll say it 1,000 times — mental illness does not equal insanity.”

It was, he said, Becker’s “calculated choice” to murder Thomas, not to take his medications, not to call his parents.

Attorney Derek Jones, who is assisting public defender Susan Flander of Waterloo in Becker’s defense, said in his opening statement that the evidence will show Becker is insane and has suffered for years from paranoid schizophrenia.

Becker, he said, hears voices and experiences delusions. He has been on medication for years and hospitalized for the condition in the past.

Jones said Becker had vandalized a home in Cedar Falls a few days before the murder because he thought the man who lived there was hypnotizing him.

He said Becker had delusions on June 23 that Thomas was Satan and that he needed to do something to make the voices stop. Becker made bizarre statements to police after his arrest, calling Thomas “a devil tyrant” and “Lucifer,” saying Thomas was trying to turn people into fish and dead people.

Testimony will continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Butler County District Court in Allison. Iowa courts are closed on Monday, a furlough day.

Replay Gazette Reporter Trish Mehaffey's coverage from the trial:
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