After more than three years, numerous suspects, several arrests and one mistrial, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness on Tuesday asked jurors in the Justin Marshall murder trial a question.
"Why are you here?" Ms. Lyness said while making her closing arguments.
"Because John Versypt is not here," she said. "He died on Oct. 8, 2009, and he should not have. He died because of the actions of Justin Marshall. So hold him accountable and find him guilty of first-degree murder."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys were bold in their closing arguments Tuesday, capping the long trial – now in its third week – in dramatic style. Defense attorney Thomas Gaul accused prosecution witnesses of manipulating and lying for their advantage, and he brought race into consideration.
Ms. Lyness told jurors, all of whom are white, not to feel guilty if they choose to convict a black man.
"It is just as racist to find someone guilty because of their race as it is to acquit someone because of their race," she said, "So don't feel guilty. Don't feel racist. Look at the evidence."
For the first time in the trial, Ms. Lyness read aloud a confession that Mr. Marshall is accused of writing while being held as a suspect in this case in the Muscatine County Jail. Jailhouse witnesses testified that Mr. Marshall wanted to try and downgrade his charge from murder to manslaughter and wrote a confession alleging the shooting was an accident.
In his confession, according to Ms. Lyness, Mr. Marshall said he had been smoking marijuana that afternoon and decided he wanted to sell his gun. So he left his apartment, but on his way out of the building, "Someone stopped me and said, 'Is that drugs you smoking?'"
"I was startled," Ms. Lyness read from Mr. Marshall's confession. "He went reaching, so I hurried and went for the gun…It was all so fast. I grabbed my gun. It went bang…I didn't mean it. It was an accident. I promise."
Ms. Lyness said jailhouse witnesses who testified against Mr. Marshall never lied on the stand – including when Mr. Gaul asked them if they were doing this for some benefit. They all said they would like to have time taken off their sentences.
But they also said they wouldn't make up information knowing they could face many more years in prison – up to life for two of them.
Mr. Gaul told jurors that prosecutors have no physical evidence and their case hangs on testimony from the three hardened criminals who manipulated Mr. Marshall into giving them information.
"Don't let them fool you like they fooled Justin," he said.
Mr. Versypt, 64, of Cordova, was a landlord for units in the Broadway Condominium complex and was checking on his properties when he was gunned down during an attempted robbery Oct. 8, 2009, according to police.
Mr. Marshall was among three people arrested in the killing. Charles Thompson, 20, was the first in February 2010, followed by Marshall, 22, in July 2011 and then Courtney White, 25, in October 2011.
All three men originally were charged with first-degree murder, but Thompson's case ended in a mistrial and he subsequently pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony against Mr. Marshall.
Jurors began deliberating about 2 p.m. Tuesday. They left for the day at 4:30 p.m. planning to return at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Mr. Marshall faces a life sentence in prison.
Today is Thursday, May 23, the 143rd day of 2013. There are 222 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: Messrs. J. and M. Rosenfield have moved their leather and hidestore to the building formerly occupied by Temple Bufords's store. They buy and sellhides, pelts, furs, wool, beeswax, lard, tallow, etc. 1888 -- 125 years ago: The Rock Island Lumber Company has recovered 5,000 of the8,000 logs that were carried away by the Mississippi River flood last week. 1913 -- 100 years ago: John J. Ullemeyer has been awarded the contract to furnish RockIsland fire and police department members with uniforms, at the city's expense. 1938 -- 75 years ago: Work on Aledo's new $38,000 swimming pool was started thismorning at South Park when ground for the pool was broken by Mayor John W. Murphy. 1963 -- 50 years ago: Students and teacher at Moline High School called today "MissLeona Day" day at the school in honor of the government teacher who retires at theend of the school term. Although she's been teaching for 43 years at the school, Miss Dayfound a new way of arriving at the school this morning. At 7:30 a.m., a police squad carpulled up in front of Miss Day's home and escorted her to school. A caravan of students' cars joined the procession along the way. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Barbecue cooking and riverfront antics are planned for Discover the River Day Saturday in Leach Park, Bettendorf. A 5K run, wind surfing, a canoe race, hogcalling and more will round out the day under the Interstate 74 bridge.