DUBUQUE – Isaiah Sweet admitted that he murdered his grandparents Monday as a condition of the court’s accepting the plea agreement that suddenly ended his first-degree murder trial.
Sweet, 18, of Manchester, said he intended to kill 55-year-old Richard Sweet and 63-year-old Janet Sweet “before, during and after” he shot them in the head with a high-powered rifle in their Manchester home.
In his allocution, Sweet acknowledged that the state could prove that he did so “willfully, deliberately and premeditatively.”
In exchange for Sweet’s guilty pleas to two first-degree murder charges, the prosecution agreed that his sentences could run concurrently.
Judge Michael Shubatt reminded Sweet that the maximum sentence for first-degree murder by statute is life in prison without parole with no provision for any portion of the sentence to be suspended or deferred.
Because the crime was committed on May 11, 2012, when Sweet was 17, the judge said he might get some consideration at sentencing — tentatively set for Dec. 18 in Manchester – but that there was no guarantee.
The trial was moved from Manchester to Dubuque after Sweet’s attorneys argued that he could not get a fair trial in Manchester.
The judge announced the plea agreement moments after Iowa Assistant Attorney General Denise Timmins rested the state’s case, which concluded with the presentation of a two-hour videotape in which Sweet admitted killing his grandparents.
In it, Sweet said he crept up the basement stairs, wearing ear protection to muffle the rifle reports, and shot his grandfather in the head at a distance of 15 feet.
He said the shot awakened his grandmother, whom he then shot twice in the head.
“The dog just kind of sat there wondering what the hell happened,” Sweet told Scott Reger, the Division of Criminal Investigation agent who interviewed him at the Manchester Police Department on the night of May 14, 2012, the day Sweet was apprehended in Cedar Rapids.
Reger described Sweet as “very calm, very open” during the interrogation.
Sweet told Reger that he initially intended to kill his grandparents with a baseball bat and that he had conducted Internet searches on how to kill people with minimal mess and suffering.
Expressing remorse for his acts, Sweet told Reger that he didn’t know why he’d done it and immediately wanted to take it back.
“They didn’t deserve it. I did. I wish I’d shot myself,” Sweet told Reger.
During the interview, Reger showed Sweet a photograph of the semi-automatic rifle that authorities believed was used to kill the elder Sweets. Isaiah Sweet identified it as the gun he used to kill his grandparents.
Sweet also told Reger that his grandfather made his life “a living hell,” repeatedly calling him names and suggesting that he kill himself.
Monday’s proceedings began with Judge Shubatt denying a defense motion for mistrial.
In arguing for the motion Friday afternoon, defense attorney Jill Eimermann said a statement by DCI special agent Ward Crowley – a reference to six child porn images found on a computer at the Sweet home – was prejudicial toward their client.
Counsel for both sides had agreed before the trial that the child porn images were not relevant to the case and would not be brought to the jury’s attention.
“The bell has been rung, and it can’t be unrung,” Eimermann said.
“I agree that the bell was rung, but the ring was not resounding,” Shubatt said.
Several people in the Sweet home used the computer, and nothing in the record establishes that the defendant made the porn-related searches, the judge said.