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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WEBSTER CITY — Testimony ended Thursday in the trial of the Grundy Center man accused of shooting and killing Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith in 2021, with the defense not calling any of its own witnesses.
Closing arguments in the murder case will be Monday.
Prosecutors rested Thursday morning after putting on their last two witnesses — the state medical examiner and a firearms expert. The defense indicated it wasn't calling any witnesses, and the accused, Michael Thomas Lang, 42, told the court he wasn’t going to testify.
Lang is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault on a peace officer. Authorities said he struggled with and choked a Grundy Center police officer following an attempted traffic stop and chase. They said Lang then fled home and shot Smith, 51 of Independence, with a shotgun when officers inside the house attempted to detain him.
Smith, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, was the second Iowa State Patrol trooper to be shot and killed in the line of duty. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Lang later fired the shotgun into the windshield of an armored vehicle when SWAT team members raided his house after the shooting.
Defense attorney Aaron Hawbaker said Lang’s decision not to testify related his inability to argue the killing was in self-defense.
Judge Joel Dalrymple said that in his view, the actions of law enforcement during the incident were lawful, and the self-defense argument wasn’t available to the defense.
The state earlier had argued the self-defense and “stand your ground” argument aren’t allowed because residents aren’t allowed to use force to resist arrest even if they believe the arrest is unlawful.
Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand renewed his request Thursday to place the trial on hold Friday to allow members of Smith’s family to travel to Washington, D.C., for a Police Memorial Week ceremony and a local event over the weekend.
Hawbaker resisted, saying the defense is prepared to argue closings Friday, and any delay would increase the risk of jurors being inadvertently exposed to publicity surrounding the case.
The judge didn’t grant the motion, but gave jurors the rest of Thursday and Friday off to allow for both sides to review and prepare jury instructions. He noted many cases are overturned on appeal because of errors in jury instructions, and he didn’t want to speed through the process.
During the last part of testimony, State Medical Examiner Dennis Klein described Smith’s fatal injury from a 12-gauge shotgun shell.
Smith was wearing body armor, but the projectile hit his left shoulder around the shoulder strap and continued moving inward, entering around the collar bone and hitting a rib and his left lung, Klein said.
From there, the slug tore Smith’s aorta and hit is right lung. Klein found fragments of the slug around Smith’s right shoulder blade.
Klein also described a shotgun wound to Smith’s left leg. He said it entered his the back of his thigh and exited the front. He said that wound could have been fatal on its own.
Ballistics Examiner Michael Tate with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation tested Lang’s shotgun and compared it with four fired shells found in Lang’s home.
Tate said he couldn’t conclude that the weapon fired the spent shells because the gun’s breach face was dirty and therefore didn’t leave markings on the shells. He ran a secondary test, looking at marks from the gun’s extractor and a catch in the magazine tube. From that, he was able to conclude the spent shells had been cycled by the shotgun.
The trial was moved from Grundy County to Hamilton County because of pretrial publicity.