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IOWA CITY — A judge Tuesday found an Iowa City man guilty of second-degree murder and six other charges for intentionally driving the wrong way and crashing into another car in 2019 on Interstate 80 during an attempt to kill himself but instead causing another man’s death and badly injuring four.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Jason Besler, following a non-jury trial in July for Stephen Lucore, 34, announced his verdict Tuesday. He found Lucore, originally charged with first-degree murder, guilty of second-degree murder, homicide by vehicle, serious injury by vehicle, willful injury causing serious injury and three counts of willful injury causing bodily injury.
According to a criminal complaint, Lucore drove his Hyundai Sonata the wrong way about 9:30 p.m., June 16, 2019, on I-80 and caused a head-on collision with a Honda Pilot driven by David Sawyer, 31, of Frisco, Texas.
Sawyer's passenger, Robert Sawyer, 64, of Nocona, Texas, died in the crash.
The complaint shows Lucore caused serious or bodily injury to David Sawyer and to others in Sawyer's sport utility vehicle — Luz Mercedes Cuevas Gallardo, 58, and to 'D.S.” and 'L.S.,” as the children are identified in court documents.
Besler, who summarized his ruling, said this was a “unique case” because most of the facts were not in dispute. Lucore intentionally drove his car into David Sawyer’s vehicle. Sawyer attempted to avoid the collision but Lucore continued to “hit the gas” and collide with the Honda.
Lucore admitted that he wanted to die by suicide that day. In the past, he had talked about colliding with a semitractor-trailer.
Besler said the main issue in the case was whether Lucore, who claimed diminished capacity as his defense, had malice and could form specific intent to kill. Lucore argued his intent was to die by suicide and not kill anyone else. He said he had no malice against Robert Sawyer and didn’t even know him.
Given the manner in which Lucore drove — making a U-turn to go in the wrong direction of traffic, turning off his lights, continuing to accelerate to make sure he crashed into Sawyer’s SUV, even as Sawyer attempted to avoid him — Lucore acted with malice aforethought, the judge said.
Besler said evidence proved Lucore had intent to cause injury but not that he had intent to kill, which was needed to find him guilty of first-degree murder.
Lucore faces up to 50 years on the murder charge and must serve 70 percent before being eligible for parole; 10 years for willful injury causing serious injury; and five years each on the three other willful injury convictions. Depending on how the judge runs the sentences — consecutively or concurrently — he could face up to 75 years in prison.
Besler said he didn’t have a sentencing date yet but it would likely be in six weeks or so.
At the time of the crash, Lucore was on probation for a domestic abuse conviction. According to a criminal complaint, a woman told police that Lucore sat on her while attempting to strangle her in August 2017. The woman said Lucore also covered her mouth and nose to prevent her from breathing. Lucore was sentenced to two years of probation and received a deferred judgment in that case.
Prosecutors asked the court to revoke his probation when he was charged in the fatal crash. That hearing had been reset to allow the murder and other charges to be resolved. The revocation hearing is now set for Nov. 1 in Johnson County District Court.
Lucore also is being sued for negligence by David Sawyer for injuries he and his children suffered in the crash. The lawsuit filed in June also names Richard Lucore, who apparently owned the car Stephen Lucore was driving that day. Richard Lucore is also liable for the injuries and damages to the Sawyers, according to the lawsuit.
A civil trial hasn’t been set in the lawsuit.
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