Appeals court judge tosses out Iowa City man's 30-year robbery sentence

Man convicted at age 17 in robbery of western wear store

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday a district judge didn’t consider all sentencing factors regarding juveniles when an Iowa City man who was convicted at 17 for robbing a western wear store was resentenced to the original 30-year sentence.

Jose Leonardo Jordan Murcia, now 22, was resentenced last year by 6th Judicial District Judge Douglas Russell. However, the court said Russell only considered the mandatory minimum required for the second-degree robbery charge, because 2014 Iowa case law forbids mandatory minimums without a judge being allowed to consider mitigating factors.

Russell ruled the mandatory minimum in the case shouldn’t be amended and resentenced Murcia to 30 years in prison.

On appeal, however, Murcia argued the district court abused its discretion because it only considered the mandatory minimum, but should have reconsidered his entire sentence. The judge overlooked the evidence in the record relating to the five factors required in the 2014 case law, including age of offender and youthful behavior, family and home environment and possibility of rehabilitation.

Russell said there was no information presented in court that Murcia was taking any educational programs or was employed in prison, showed no evidence of remorse, had no disciplinary record while in prison and provided no information regarding family support, the appeal shows.

However, the appeals court stated there was a letter from Murcia that addressed most of these factors and was included in the court record, which the judge didn’t consider.

In his letter, Murcia stated he had never been in trouble before and he only wanted to work since arriving in the United States and make money for his family. His mother has cancer and he was her only source of income for treatment.

Murcia went on to say everything was good until he was told he couldn’t work and then he couldn’t get another job. He was told nobody would hire him because of his age and his limited English. He felt pressure to help his family and find a way to live and eat. Murcia admitted what he did was wrong but also felt he didn’t have a choice. He also expressed remorse for his actions.

In the letter, he also stated he had been using his time in prison to “become a better person” and was working on his G.E.D. and working as a cook in the kitchen.

“That particular job is given as a reward for being a hard worker and trustworthy,” Murcia said in his letter.

Because the letter wasn’t considered, the appeals court vacated Murcia’s sentencing and sent the case back to district court for resentencing.

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