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71-year-old man dies while serving life for murder of Cedar Rapids teen

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A 71-year-old man, serving a life sentence for the 1974 fatal shooting and sexual assault of a 17-year-old Cedar Rapids woman in Jones County, died in hospice care in Anamosa State Penitentiary on Sunday.

Atwell Conner died about 6 a.m. Sunday when nursing staff discovered he was no longer breathing and had no pulse, Fred Scaletta, Iowa Department of Corrections spokesman, said Monday. The Jones County Coroner’s office pronounced death about 6:55 a.m.

Scaletta said Conner died of natural caused due to the final stages of colon cancer.

Conner was convicted of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Maureen Connolly on March 9, 1974, court records show. Conner was also charged in Linn County with first-degree murder in the death of Michael Servey, 18, also of Cedar Rapids, who was with Connolly that night.

The Linn County Attorney’s Office dismissed that charge in 2013 based on speedy trial and double jeopardy grounds.

George Nowlin, who died in prison in 1989, was also convicted in the murder of Connolly and Servey. Conner and Nowlin picked up Connolly and Servey that night when they ran out of gas and were walking along Sixth Street SW in Cedar Rapids. Nowlin was found guilty of raping Connolly and killing her in Jones County and killing Servey near Palisades State Park in Linn County.

According to trial testimony, Nowlin shot both Connolly and Servey but Connor was found guilty for his part in the underlying crime of robbery. Servey was robbed of $42.

After Conner’s appeals were denied, former Gov. Tom Vilsack denied Connor’s commutation request in 2004, which followed a 5-0 recommendation by the Iowa Board of Parole to reject Conner’s application.

Vilsack in denying Conner’s application said he failed to dissociate himself from Nowlin or to stop the robbery, failed to protect either victim and failed to alleviate the suffering of the victims’ families by notifying authorities after the murders occurred. The teens’ bodies were found about a week later.

Conner at the commutation hearing in 2004 maintained his innocence, claiming he was forced to participate in the crime at gunpoint by Nowlin and feared for his life. He also said Nowlin threatened to kill his family if he didn’t participate in the robbery.

Parole board members at the hearing said there were inconsistencies in Conner’s testimony and it was difficult to accept his account of not being able to intercede and help the victims.

Patrick Servey, Michael’s brother, asked the board at the hearing not to commute Conner’s life sentence. He told them not to forget how Connolly was raped and killed and how his brother was killed after being robbed.

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