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 Sunday, Dec. 8, the 342nd day of 2013. There are 23 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: For the whole of last week we have been favored with the most delightful Indian summer weather, and mercury ranging from 40 to 65 above zero. The river is entirely clear of ice and looks as mild and soft as summer. 1888 -- 125 years ago: Albert Johnson was appointed a deputy in the circuit clerk's office. 1913 -- 100 years ago: 800 or more tons of earth in six landslides covered 38th Street for a distance of 200 feet near 7th Avenue and destroyed much property. 1938 -- 75 years ago: One of the 350-foot towers, which with a new transmitter will increase the power of WHBF to 1,000 watts day and night, has been completed on a 20-acre tract at 23rd Avenue and 51st Street, Moline. 1963 -- 50 years ago: In cooperation with The Associated Press, The Argus presents to its readers a complete, beginning-to-end account of one of the most tragic and dreadful chapters in American history, the assassination of President Kennedy, available in book form, and now in preparation. The book is entitled "The Torch is Passed." 1988 -- 25 years ago: Deere & Co. stockholders received good news of a boost in their quarterly dividends from 20 to 30 cents per share of common stock. The dividend, made to stockholders of record on Dec. 30, will be payable on Feb. 1, 1989.