Two of the prosecution’s key witnesses in its first-degree murder case against Justin Marshall apparently came forward with new information over the weekend, prompting a delay in the proceedings.
The 16 jurors hearing the case were sent home around 10 a.m. Monday without explanation. Johnson County Judge Sean McPartland said only that “matters” arose requiring a full day’s work. Tuesday morning, attorneys returned ready to proceed with the trial.
McPartland explained the delay was prompted by new information about a “conversation overheard” by James Brown and Rhonda Bluitt, who lived next to that apartment where Marshall was staying with his co-defendant Charles Thompson at the time of the shooting on Oct. 8, 2009.
“The issues that we’re addressing this morning arise as a result of the matters addressed in (Johnson County Attorney Janet) Lyness’ email on Sunday evening,” McPartland said.
The judge said Marshall and his defense team wanted the chance to take depositions from Bluitt, Brown and Thompson based on the new information. That is what attorneys spend Monday doing, according to McPartland.
“Following the depositions late yesterday, the state indicated that it wished to proceed with the testimony of Ms. Bluitt and Mr. Brown and also to elicit the testimony about the conversation they allegedly overheard,” McPartland said.
The defense, however, objected to allowing those statements at trial. Defense attorney Thomas Gaul argued they should not be allowed because his defense theory is that the only people willing to testify against Marshall are those who have something to gain.
“The only people who are saying that Mr. Marshall incriminated himself are people who have a reason to fabricate, namely, prisoners who are looking for a better plea deal and time off their sentence,” Gaul said.
He reminded the judge that he included that theory in his opening statements to jurors last week. But, he said Brown and Bluitt have no reason to lie.
“It looks to the jury as if I was trying to deceive them in my voir dire and in openings and in our whole theory,” Gaul said. “I believe this will cause the jury to discredit anything we do from now on.”
Still, McPartland ruled to allow prosecutors to question Brown and Bluitt about the new information because the state did not intentionally withhold the information. McPartland said the defense was given a chance to investigate the new information, and he said the new information “clearly would be relevant, probative and admissible in connection with the issues here.”
McPartland said defense attorneys can question the information on cross-examination, bringing up details about the late disclosure of the information and the “conflicting testimony by Mr. Thompson, which is expected also to be elicited by the state.”
Brown testified on Tuesday about how he heard a loud “pop” in the hallway at the time of the shooting and then heard Marshall in the hallway asking to be let into the neighboring apartment.
Testimony is expected to wrap up on Thursday.
According to police, John Versypt was a landlord for units in the Broadway Condominium complex in south Iowa City, and he was checking on his properties when he was shot in the head during an attempted robbery on Oct. 8, 2009.
Thompson, 20, was the first to be arrested, followed by Marshall, 22, and then Courtney White, 25. Originally, they all were charged with first-degree murder. But Thompson’s trial, the first of the three, ended in a mistrial when prosecutors inadvertently presented evidence that was inadmissible.
Following the trial, Thompson agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his promise to testify against Marshall. He has not yet taken the stand in Marshall’s trial and remains in custody until he does.