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 Tuesday, Sept. 16, the 259th day of 2014. There are 106 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: A fine lumber mill is on the course of erection at Andalusia. A flouring mill at that location is doing a fine business. 1889 — 125 years ago: J.B. Lidders, past captain of Beardsley Camp, Sons of Veterans, returned from Paterson, N.Y., where he attended the National Sons of Veterans encampments. 1914 — 100 years ago: President Wilson announced that he had received from the imperial chancellor of Germany a noncommittal reply to his inquiry into a report that the emperor was willing to discuss terms of peace. 1939 — 75 years ago: Delegates at the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church in Springfield voted to raise the minimum pay of ministers so that every pastor would get at least $1,000 annually. 1964 — 50 years ago: An audience of more than 2,600 persons jammed into the Davenport RKO Orpheum theater with a shoe horn feasted on a Miller-Diller evening that was a killer night. Phyllis Diller sent the audience with her offbeat humor. And send them she did! It was Miss Diller's third appearance in the Quad-Cities area. 1989 — 25 years ago: A few years ago, a vacant lot on 7th Avenue and 14th Street in Rock Island was a community nuisance. Weeds grew as high 18 inches. Today, the lot has a new face, thanks to Michael and Sheila Rind and other neighbors who helped them turn it into a park three weeks ago.