IOWA CITY — The trial for an Iowa man, who plans to ask for “stand your ground” immunity in a fatal shooting on the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall last summer, will starts in Polk County District Court Monday.
About 100 potential jurors will fill out questionnaires Monday and jury selection will likely start Tuesday in the first-degree murder trial of Lamar Wilson, 21. He is accused of fatally shooting Kaleek Jones, 22, and injuring two others in the shooting on Aug. 27. Jones died as the result of a gunshot wound to his back and neck.
Wilson also faces two counts of attempted murder and one count of intimidation with a dangerous weapon.
A criminal complaint shows Wilson fired several rounds at people in close range near the walkway between the Sheraton Hotel and Martini’s bar that day. Wilson was found with two firearms when he was captured a short distance from where the shooting happened. He had a valid permit to carry a gun.
6th Judicial District Judge Paul Miller, during a pretrial hearing Friday, said he expects opening statements and testimony will start Thursday. Miller, defense lawyers and the prosecutors went over the remaining motions to resolve before trial.
The trial information was amended by the prosecution last week to include only one count of intimidation with a weapon, instead of three.
Judge Miller also severed the criminal gang participation charge, which will be later tried in a separate trial.
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Miller said the gang participation evidence was more prejudicial to Wilson based on depositions which couldn’t provide sufficient facts regarding gang activity in relation to this shooting. As a result, both sides aren’t allowed to refer to “gangs” during the trial.
According to previous hearings, two rival groups, one from Cedar Rapids and other from Iowa City, were involved in an ongoing dispute that impacted the Ped Mall shooting.
There have been several hearings to hammer out various legal issues before trial, such as moving the trial to Polk based on extensive pretrial publicity, but the biggest obstacle was how to deal with the new “stand your ground” law, which allows defendants to claim immunity in certain situations.
Wilson’s lawyers asked for an evidentiary hearing or “mini-trial” to determine if their client’s actions were justified in use of deadly force, but Miller denied that request in November, ruling he will let the jury decide the verdict and if they find him guilty, then he will make a separate ruling on the immunity issue.
Miller said he based his decision on a similar procedure used in a 1989 case, State v. King, that the Iowa Supreme Court upheld.
Miller, in the ruling, said he reviewed other states’ “stand your ground” cases and in each of these the courts held evidentiary hearings on requests to dismiss based on grounds of immunity. However, in these states, the statutes specifically provide for immunity from “criminal prosecution,” not “criminal liability,” which is the language in the Iowa law.
Other states also have developed procedures on how to apply immunity provisions but Iowa hasn’t at this time, Miller added.
John Bruzek, Wilson’s lawyer, argued last year during a hear that deadly force may be used “when defending against an imminent threat of deadly force, or the actual use of deadly force by an assailant,” according to Iowa law.
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Assistant Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann Smith argued the law only grants immunity for criminal or civil liability for “all damages incurred by the aggressor.” She said the statute refers to criminal liability for all financial damages, not “immunity from prosecution.”
Handling the issue this way will result in witness testimony and examination in one proceeding — a trial — rather than two separate proceedings, Miller pointed out in the ruling. This will allow a jury to reach a verdict and the court will still make its own ruling on the immunity question.
Miller said neither the prosecution nor defense will be prejudiced and both sides will have the chance to question witnesses and present argument in the same way as an evidentiary hearing.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.
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