Judge declares mistrial in Thompson murder trial

Iowa City man charged in landlord's shooting death

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April 3, 2014 | 1:19 am

IOWA CITY — Charles Thompson is an innocent man and will be vindicated, his defense attorney said after a judge on Tuesday declared a mistrial in Thompson’s first-degree murder case.

“I’m anxious to see Charles vindicated,” Attorney Tyler Johnston said after court. “There was no evidence of his involvement. The only reason he was charged is because someone accused him.”

Thompson was standing trial in Johnson County District Court in the slaying of an Iowa City landlord, John Versypt, who was shot and killed while he was working on his units at the Broadway Condominiums on Oct. 8, 2009.

The trial was in its second week, nearing the end, when the prosecutor played a portion of a videotaped police interview with Thompson that mentioned an incident in Michigan. The judge had earlier ordered the information could not be used in trial to avoid prejudice against the defendant.

“That bell can’t be unrung,” Johnston said in making his motion for a mistrial. “I heard it clear as a bell.”

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she unintentionally played that portion of the interview. Originally, redactions were made according to an early motion and then additional redactions were made Monday. Somehow, she said, the additional redactions weren’t incorporated on the disc that was played in court Tuesday.

Lyness stopped the tape when she realized it, but it was too late. The jurors had heard it.

In response to the mistrial motion, Lyness said that portion of the interview was not easily heard because it was distorted. She suggested the court instruct the jury to disregard it, saying that a mistrial was not the appropriate measure.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland dismissed the jury early for lunch while he reviewed the portion of the tape and did some research in chambers. He returned to the courtroom and ruled a mistrial.

McPartland said he reviewed other cases and determined that telling the jury to disregard the statements wouldn’t be sufficient. It could influence the verdict, so he had no choice but to grant the mistrial, he said.

Jennifer Wakefield, Versypt’s daughter, said she and her family were disappointed and hoped justice would be served in her father’s slaying.

Lyness said after court that her office will refile the first-degree murder charge and proceed with another trial. This mistake was not intentional, she said.

“I think the public will understand that mistakes are made, and there were a lot of changes (with the redactions),” Lyness said. “Everybody tried to do the right thing.”

Johnston, the defense attorney, said that what Division of Criminal Investigation agent Richard Rahn said on the videotape about Thompson’s involvement in an incident in Michigan wasn’t true. It was a police technique to get a suspect to talk. The incident involved a BB-gun and involved another person, not Thompson, who was a child at the time.

“Charles wanted to keep going with this trial, but I think the unexplained Michigan incident would have affected the outcome,” Johnston said.

Johnston said he didn’t know if he would request a change of venue in the next trial.

Matt Kray, a first-time juror, said afterward that many of the jurors were disappointed they didn’t get to see the trial through to its end, but said they understood why the judge ruled the way he did. McPartland talked to the jurors for about an hour after the ruling to explain his decision.

“Everyone picked up on it (in the tape) and knew it was an issue,” Kray said.

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