Witness denies snitching about 2009 murder of Iowa City landlord

Justin Marshall retrial set May 22

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IOWA CITY — A man, who testified by phone from a federal prison in Indiana, said he wasn’t asked by law enforcement to get incriminating information on the man accused of killing landlord John Versypt in 2009.

Carl Johnson, testifying from Terra Haute, said he talked, more than once, to Justin Marshall, 26, who is being retried for first-degree murder, at the Muscatine County Jail in 2011, while Johnson was waiting to begin a federal prison term.

But Johnson said he didn’t initiate conversation about the robbery and homicide of Versypt, 64, the Broadway Condominiums landlord, on Oct. 8, 2009.

An Iowa Supreme Court ruling upheld the 2015 appeals court ruling that overturned the 2013 conviction of Marshall because testimony of a jail informant shouldn’t have been permitted.

But the justices said it was a different informant, Antonio Martin, who shouldn’t have been allowed to testify at Marshall’s first trial because he was working with law enforcement to question Marshall about the homicide in exchange for a reduced sentence. Marshall should have been allowed to have his attorney present, the court ruled.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness and Assistant County Attorney Jude Pannell are asking 6th Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland to determine if Johnson can testify at Marshall’s retrial on May 22, in Scott County, where the trial was moved based on pretrial publicity.

The Supreme Court in its ruling also stated there wasn’t enough evidence to determine if Johnson was working for law enforcement.

Marshall is asking the court to not allow Johnson to testify.

Both Johnson and Martin testified at Marshall’s first trial.

Marshall, who is representing himself, asked Johnson if he was asked by two police investigators to talk to Marshall about the homicide.

Johnson said no. He talked to Marshall five or six times, while both were in the “hole” — special housing unit for inmates with disciplinary issues at the Muscatine County Jail — but Marshall was the one who talked about the fatal shooting. Marshall, during one conversation, said he robbed the landlord by himself, Johnson said.

“Not one time did I grill him for information,” Johnson said.

McPartland didn’t make a ruling Thursday.

Lyness also submitted court transcripts from the first trial for the judge to review in making his decision.

Marshall told the court he would represent himself at a previous hearing, but McPartland asked him again to confirm his decision. Marshall did so.

The judge in March appointed Tom Gaul, Marshall’s former lawyer, to provide stand-by counsel at this trial. Gaul was at Thursday’s hearing, and McPartland went over the rules again, saying Gaul couldn’t make objections and can’t give legal advice during hearings and at trial, unless Marshall asks for advice. Marshall will be in control and have the responsibility to present his case.

Also last month, amended trial information was filed by the prosecution in anticipation of a plea agreement, which Lyness thought he had agreed to take but Marshall declined, saying he wanted to go forward and represent himself.

Marshall was convicted by a jury in 2013 of first-degree murder. Authorities testified that Marshall intended to rob Versypt but ended up fatally shooting him in the head and hand.

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

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