More than three years after a landlord was shot and killed while checking on his properties in south Iowa City, Justin Marshall on Wednesday was convicted in his murder.
Marshall showed almost no emotion when the judge read the jury’s verdict at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday after 13 days in court and about 13 hours of deliberation. Family members and friends of the victim, John Versypt, breathed what seemed to be a sigh of relief and then cried.
A red-eyed Janet Versypt said she had one thought when she heard the guilty verdict in connection with her husband’s homicide.
“It’s over,” she said.
And yet, Versypt said, she’s also prepared to sit through and testify in another trial if she has to.
“If justice needs to be served, we’ll do it again,” she said.
Marshall’s trial was the second that Versypt had to sit through in connection with her husband’s shooting death on Oct. 8, 2009. Charles Thompson, 20, was the first person arrested and tried on first-degree murder charges, but his case ended in a mistrial in 2011 and he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Courtney White, 25, was the third person arrested on first-degree murder charges in the case, and he’s scheduled to be tried May 1.
Versypt said she appreciates all the hard work that has gone into catching her husband’s killers. But, she said, the trials make healing difficult.
“It’s like having the scab removed again,” she said.
All 12 jurors on Thursday were polled on which theory they chose in coming to the verdict of first-degree murder. There were several different theories, and they did not have to agree on the theory to come to a unanimous verdict.
All but one juror convicted on the theory of aiding and abetting – the theory that defense attorney Thomas Gaul objected to while attorneys were preparing jury instructions. He argued it should not be included because prosecutors had presented no evidence that Marshall worked in concert with someone else.
Gaul and his co-counselor Michael Adams had no comment after the verdict Thursday, except to say they plan to appeal.
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said appeals are frequent and she believes the jury instruction of aiding and abetting was appropriate. She said her office will handle the appeal, should it come, but she believes jurors made the right decision.
“We are pleased and relieved for the family,” Lyness said.
John Versypt, according to police, was a landlord for units in the Broadway Condominium complex in south Iowa City. He was on the property Oct. 8, 2009, to hang no smoking and no loitering signs when he was held up in an attempted robbery and then shot through the hand and the head, according to police.
Prosecutors said Marshall later 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 defense attorneys argued that authorities collected almost no physical evidence against their client and that the jailhouse witnesses could be lying to get time off their sentences.
Thompson, one of the three suspects who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after his mistrial, is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 15. He is expected to receive probation and credit for time served.
Marshall is expected to be sentenced to life in prison on April 26.
Lyness wouldn’t comment on White’s upcoming trial except to say that it is still set.
John Versypt’s daughter, Jennifer Wakefield, said after the verdict that she is relieved and ready to get back to her home in Indianapolis, where her family and job are waiting.
“We are grateful and relieved with the verdict by the jury,” Wakefield said, reading from a family statement. “Hopefully after three years, we can continue our healing and have some closure.”
Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said Thursday after the verdict that this case has not been easy for police or prosecutors, with a lack of physical evidence and uncooperative witnesses.
“It’s one of those things that’s bittersweet,” he said. “You don’t feel like doing a high five. There’s still a victim and a victim’s family. We are just glad to see that justice was served.”
Still, Hargadine said, after more than three years of work, it’s a “shot in the arm” to get a favorable verdict against Marshall.
“This is the most important one because we’ve always felt Marshall was the key player,” Hargadine said.
Investigators believe more than just Marshall played a role, however, and Hargadine said the case is not closed.“Time to prepare for the next one,” he said.