Attorneys in Iowa City murder case to seek U.S. Supreme Court review

Second trial of Justin Marshall put on hold

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IOWA CITY — The state of Iowa intends to seek United States Supreme Court review of an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that overturned an Iowa City murder conviction.

On Friday, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said the Iowa Attorney General’s Office plans to file a petition for writ of certiorari later this month in the case of Justin Marshall. A petition for writ of certiorari — or cert petition — asks the Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision.

Such an action would be the first for the Johnson County Attorney’s Office in more than a quarter century, Lyness said after a hearing on Friday.

“It’s the first in the 26 years I’ve been here,” she said.

Marshall, 25, was convicted of first-degree murder in February 2013 for the Oct. 8, 2009, fatal shooting of 64-year-old John Versypt at the former Broadway Condominiums. Authorities said Marshall intended to rob Versypt, a landlord, but ended up shooting him in the head and hand. He was found guilty by a jury and given an automatic life sentence.

That conviction was overturned by the Iowa Court of Appeals in 2015. The appeals court ruled the testimony of Antonio Martin — one of Marshall’s cellmates in the Muscatine County Jail — should not have been included during the trial. Martin had an agreement with federal authorities to provide information on Marshall in exchange for a reduced sentence.

The appeals court found Martin was acting as an agent of the state and Marshall therefore should have had an attorney present during any questioning by Martin.

In June, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the appeals court ruling in a 4-3 decision. Associate Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel wrote in his opinion that Martin elicited incriminating statements from Marshall.

Martin told Marshall to “tell your side of the story if you’re going to get a lesser charge.” The majority opinion in the ruling said this was a “classic police interrogation technique” and found Martin wasn’t just a “passive listener to a heartfelt confession.”

Associate Justice Edward Mansfield, however, said a defendant offering incriminating statements to another inmate isn’t automatically deprived of his rights simply because that inmate had an agreement to cooperate with authorities. Mansfield also pointed to other evidence in the case, including several witnesses who placed Marshall at the location where Versypt was killed, gunshot residue found on his jacket and Marshall’s statements to police that revealed details about Versypt’s death that were not publicly known.

Lyness said the Iowa Attorney General’s Office would handle the United States Supreme Court petition and proceedings. The petition is due at the end of September and the next Supreme Court session begins on the first Monday of October. Lyness said the Supreme Court could choose to take the case, not take the case or only hear a portion of it. When that decision takes place could fall anytime within the term, which ends in late June or early July.

Marshall, who remains in custody on a $1 million cash bond, was scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 27. However, that trial and most of the other matters related to the trial, including a potential change of venue, are to be put on hold until the Supreme Court petition is resolved one way or another, Judge Sean McPartland said Friday.

“The parties are in agreement that we will release the trial day and stay further proceedings in this matter,” McPartland said.

One item left to be decided, however, is a motion for bond review filed by Marshall’s attorney, Thomas Gaul, on Friday. Gaul’s motion mentions both the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions, as well as the United States Supreme Court petition.

“So, having gone to the appellate courts twice and lost twice, the State again goes to the appellate courts,” Gaul states in his motion. “While this is their right, Mr. Marshall should not be forced to wait yet more years in custody during this appeal process, which has already taken years and may take yet more years before a decision is made.”

Added Gaul after Friday’s hearing, “He’s been in for five years and it could be years more if he’s not allowed to bond out.”

McPartland said he plans to set a hearing for bond review as soon as possible.

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