Public Safety

Trial can proceed in I-80 rest area fatal shooting

News Track: Mariana Lesnic, after competency finding, seeking to represent herself

This is the westbound Interstate 80 rest area where Ernest Kummer was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 2017. The body of the 60-year-old Monroe truck driver was found in the sleeper cab of his semi-trailer truck parked at the rest area near Victor, in Iowa County. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
This is the westbound Interstate 80 rest area where Ernest Kummer was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 2017. The body of the 60-year-old Monroe truck driver was found in the sleeper cab of his semi-trailer truck parked at the rest area near Victor, in Iowa County. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Mariana Lesnic, whose last address is unknown to authorities, was arrested in Iowa County on Sept. 6, 2017, for the fatal shooting of Ernest Kummer.

Authorities said Kummer was found dead at 2:37 a.m. of a gunshot wound to the head inside the sleep cab of his semi trailer truck, which was parked at the westbound Interstate 80 rest area near Victor.

Kummer, 60, lived in Monroe, a Jasper County city south of Newton and I-80. He had worked as a driver for Copeland Trucking in Des Moines since 2010.

Authorities said Lesnic — who called 911 about the shooting — admitted to shooting Kummer and told police the small, semi-automatic gun was in her purse, which was found on the ground next to her at the rest area.

Lesnic, 44, was charged with first-degree murder, and her trial was set for Jan. 23.

Lesnic later sought to represent herself, but Eric Tindal of Iowa City, an attorney assigned to counsel her, asked that she have a competency evaluation.

On Dec. 1, a judge suspended court proceedings and ordered that evaluation.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

A March 19 competency hearing was held in Iowa County District Court to consider the evaluation written by Dr. Abraham Assad, a Coralville psychiatrist.

In the report, Assad said Lesnic “does not appear to be suffering from any mental illness at this time” and was competent to stand trial.

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Neither the prosecution nor the defense submitted any additional evidence regarding Les- nic’s competency, court records show.

“Based on this evidence, the only evidence before the court, the court finds by a preponderance of evidence that defendant is competent to stand trial, and the criminal proceedings herein should be reinstated,” 6th Judicial District Judge Andrew Chappell wrote in a March 26 ruling.

Chappell scheduled an April 6 conference to set a new trial date.

Court records also show that in early March, Lesnic wrote a letter to the court indicating she had “pass(ed) a test to represent myself” and did not need a lawyer.

In his March 26 ruling, Chappell said he would address Lesnic’s request to act as her own attorney with a separate order.

First-degree murder is a Class A felony punishable by life in prison.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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