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 Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses. 1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000. 1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city. 1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association. 1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College. 1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.