IOWA CITY — The immunity provision of Iowa’s new “stand your ground” law provides little guidance on procedure, so a judge said Thursday he is “making it up as we go along.”
Which means 6th Judicial District Judge Paul Miller didn’t make a ruling Thursday on whether Lamar Wilson, 21, of Iowa City, should be immune from prosecution in the Aug. 27, 2017, shooting on downtown Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall that left Kaleek Jones, 22, dead and Xavier Hicks and his cousin, D’Andre Hicks, injured in an encounter of two feuding groups.
Wilson was convicted by a Polk County jury of lesser charges than initially sought — voluntary manslaughter, two counts of assault with the intent to inflict serious injury and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. He faces up to 22 years in prison, not the life in prison he would have faced if convicted on the original charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
Miller was set to hear arguments Thursday, but the defense wanted to have three witnesses testify who hadn’t during the trial. The prosecution and the judge hadn’t been made aware of this until the hearing.
John Bruzek, Wilson’s attorney, said the witnesses’ testimony would be limited. They would testify, he said, that they saw D’Andre Hicks with a gun.
According to testimony at trial, none of the victims had guns.
Bruzek argued he should be allowed to put forth evidence that would have been submitted during an evidentiary hearing, which the defense requested to be held before trial to determine if Wilson, who claimed self-defense, was justified and should have immunity. But Miller denied the hearing.
Miller said he would be “foolish” not to allow the defense to make an offer of proof in order to prevent a possible appeal, but he reiterated that he wouldn’t allow this to be dragged out for months.
Assistant Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann-Smith said Miller’s order was explicit on what was being allowed at Thursday’s hearing, and the defense isn’t following it. She asked if the prosecution can rebut the evidence and also asked that some “parameters” be set for the next hearing.
Miller said the statute in place under the stand-your-ground law doesn’t provide much guidance or a procedure to follow, “so we’re making it up as we go along.”
The prosecution should have notice, he said, so he will allow the defense to provide depositions of the testimony and give prosecutors a chance to review it and decide what rebuttal they need.
Miller told the defense to get this done next week, and then he would set another hearing the following week.
The defense said at trial that Wilson feared for his life. Jones and the cousins were unarmed, testimony showed, but others with Jones’ group had guns and attacked Wilson and his friends. So Wilson, who had a permit to carry a gun, was forced to defend himself and others, they argued.
Bruzek argued in a previous motion to dismiss the case that the new state gun law establishing a stand-your-ground provision grants individuals the right to immunity from prosecution if deadly force is justified and reasonable.
The provision was among others passed last year by the Iowa Legislature in a sweeping bill expanding gun rights in the state.
Prosecutors argued before trial that the new law could grant immunity for criminal or civil liability for damages — but not immunity from prosecution.
Miller, in a November ruling, said he would postpone the issue until he had heard evidence at trial. He would allow the jury to reach a verdict, and then determine if immunity should be granted, he said.
The trial was moved to Polk County because of pretrial publicity.
Wilson also faces a charge of gang participation, which was severed from the other charges but also stems from the Ped Mall shooting.
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