Public Safety

Justin Marshall pleads guilty in 2009 fatal shooting of Iowa City landlord John Versypt

Versypt's wife: 'I'm happy he admitted it and said he was sorry'

Justin Marshall enters the courtroom for a plea and sentencing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Friday, May 12, 2017. Marshall pleaded guilty to three charges in the 2009 Iowa City shooting death of landlord John Versypt. His 2013 conviction was overturned on appeal and a new trial was set to begin this spring. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Justin Marshall enters the courtroom for a plea and sentencing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Friday, May 12, 2017. Marshall pleaded guilty to three charges in the 2009 Iowa City shooting death of landlord John Versypt. His 2013 conviction was overturned on appeal and a new trial was set to begin this spring. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — John Versypt’s sister told the man who shot him in 2009 that he attempted to rob her brother of “less than $20” but he robbed her family of a lifetime with their beloved brother, husband and father.

Mary Tiernan, Versypt’s younger sister, spoke directly to Justin Marshall during her victim’s impact statement on Friday, telling him her brother was the most positive person she has ever known. She would ask her brother how he was and he would say, “I’m so wonderful. I can hardly stand myself. Glad you got to see me.”   

Tiernan, of East Moline, Ill., told Marshall he isn’t the only one “locked up.” Versypt’s wife Jan has been “in prison” since Marshall shot her husband. The only reason the family agreed to this plea agreement was for her to be able to move on, she said.

“If you went to trial again, you would be convicted of first-degree murder but then there would be appeals again,” Tiernan said looking at Marshall, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2013 but had the verdict overturned by the Iowa Court of Appeals and upheld by the Supreme Court. He was granted a new trial, which would have started in two weeks in Scott County.   

But instead, Marshall ended it Friday by pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, second-degree robbery and intimidation with a dangerous weapon in the Oct. 8, 2009, fatal shooting of John Versypt, an Iowa City landlord.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland also sentenced Marshall Friday, as Marshall had requested, to up to 25 years in prison. He ran the charges consecutively. The judge explained Marshall must serve at least five years on the manslaughter and seven years on the robbery charge before being eligible for parole.

Versypt’s daughter, Jennifer Wakefield, said in her statement she is grateful for closure, even though she knows her mother will still wake up alone tomorrow. Her hope is for no other family to go through the pain of losing a family member and waiting years to “work out justice.”

“It’s been 7 1/2 years of ups and downs ... a roller coaster,” Jan Versypt, tearing up, said after the hearing. “I’m happy he admitted it and said he was sorry. It’s over now.”

During the hearing, Marshall admitted in his own words, that he attempted to take Versypt’s wallet from him, threatening him with a handgun in the hallway of the Broadway Condominiums. Versypt tried to grab the gun from him and Marshall discharged the weapon, shooting him in the hand and head, during the struggle.  

Marshall added that “I didn’t intend to shoot” Versypt, only “scare” him with the gun.

Marshall — turning around to look at the Versypt family — said, “I apologize for taking your loved one. I ask you to forgive me.”

Marshall said he wanted to take the plea to provide closure to Versypt’s family and his family, who also were in the courtroom.

A woman, who said she was Marshall’s aunt, approached Tiernan after the hearing, hugged her and told her she was sorry for their loss and pain.   

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said after the hearing that Marshall already has served more than five years in prison after being convicted in 2013. Marshall will be given credit for time served but he will have to serve at least 12 years before being eligible for parole, Lyness noted.

Lyness said she would have retried him for first-degree murder but because the appeal wouldn’t allow one jail informant to testify, and McPartland could have ruled that one or two others also couldn’t testify, she decided not to put the family through another trial.

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“This is a better resolution,” Lyness said. “It’s because of the witnesses and the family. They are wonderful, loving people. Not vindictive at all. They agreed to the plea.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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