The expression on Brandon Brown’s face remained as it had for a week – devoid of emotion – when the verdict was read.
On the other side of courtroom shouts, applause and tears exploded in a cacophony of sound, a stark contrast from Brown’s blank stare. A team of Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies watched on as Donelle Lindsey’s family celebrated the verdict that would send the man’s killer away to prison for the rest of his life.
“Justice,” shouted Lindsey’s stepfather, Vance Dillon, who, like others in the courtroom were wearing T-shirts bearing Donelle’s image. “Justice! We got it!”
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for four hours Tuesday afternoon before returning a guilty verdict of first-degree murder. The class A felony carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Brown, 28, was accused of gunning down Lindsey, a 30-year-old Iowa City man, on June 21, 2012. Testimony showed Lindsey had spent the day with his friend, DiMarco Harris at an apartment complex on Petsel Place on the west side of Iowa City. Brown had spent the afternoon with his friend, Byron Fisher.
The four men converged sometime around 11:26 p.m. that night. Testimony between Harris and Fisher conflicts with what happened when Brown and Lindsey encountered each other, but both men agreed that Brown shot Lindsey multiple times at close range. A medical examiner testified Lindsey was shot five times, with two of the bullets piercing Lindsey’s heart, liver and kidney.
In his closing arguments to the jury, one of Brown’s attorneys, Brian Sissel focused on the inconsistent testimony from Harris, Fisher and Nicole Blosser, who testified to driving Brown to Chicago with her boyfriend, Ivan Hardemon, following the shooting. All three were found to have been initially uncooperative with police, going as far as to lie about their knowledge of the case.
"There are lots of unanswered questions in this case,” Sissel said. “And all we can rely on is witnesses the state have called that have been lying and misleading this whole entire trial; this whole entire investigation."
In his rebuttal, Assistant Johnson County Attorney Dana Christiansen said witnessing the traumatic shooting might have affected the men’s memory.
“Facts blend together,” he said. “Facts become difficult to recall.”
Christiansen also cited the testimony of Det. David Gonzalez who testified witnesses often times have an initial unwillingness to cooperate in violent crime investigations. He urged the jurors to try to reconcile the discrepancies in testimony and determine what they should believe.
"Byron had no reason to lie,” he said. “The defendant was Byron’s friend. Why would he cook up this accusation against Brandon Brown?"
Iowa City Police investigator David Gonzalez said it’s “always a concern” when dealing with witnesses who have not been forthcoming, but he was confident the facts of the case would come out.
“We try to get the facts out,” Gonzalez said. “We’re fact finders. That’s what we do.”
Christiansen said he was aware of the inconsistencies in statements for more than a year and was pleased to see they did not negatively persuade the jury.
“I’m really, really pleased and I’m very happy for the family,” he said.
Members of Lindsey’s family hugged each other, Gonzalez and the attorneys following the verdict while also wiping away tears.
“I’m glad the verdict is guilty because he killed my son,” said Marvella Lindsey, Donelle’s mother.
Later, Marvella Lindsey said the verdict was a “big relief.”
“Now, my son can rest,” she said. “Justice for ‘Rel (Donelle’s nickname) and it was served.”
Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.