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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday denied a 'stand-your-ground” appeal by an Iowa City man, who fatally shot one man and seriously injured two others on the downtown Iowa City Pedestrian Mall in 2017.
The justices ruled Lamar Wilson, 25, was not entitled to immunity because the shootings were not justified.
The court unanimously upheld Wilson's voluntary manslaughter conviction and 24-year prison sentence.
Evidence at trial, the justices said, showed Wilson was not justified in using deadly force, as defined in Iowa law.
The law was part of a sweeping gun rights bill enacted a month before the Aug. 27, 2017, shooting in Iowa City.
In the ruling, Associate Justice Edward Mansfield wrote the court was making "an attempt to resolve another open question" left by the immunity law.
Last year, the court ruled the stand-your-ground law does not apply to defendants engaged in criminal activity before using deadly force.
The court, in that case, pointed out the law states a person has no duty to retreat if they are not engaged in illegal activity. The law therefore implies those involved in illegal activity must retreat rather than use deadly force.
Wilson, in his appeal, argued he should have been allowed to present his justification defense and been vindicated without the need for a trial.
But Mansfield, who wrote for the majority, agreed with the trial judge that the 2017 legislation provides an immunity from liability, not an immunity from prosecution, as in some other states' stand-your-ground laws.
In other states with laws similar to Iowa's, such as North Carolina, the appellate courts have not approved pretrial hearings and indicated it's up to a jury, not the trial judge, to determine 'the reasonableness of the defendant's belief under the circumstances,” according to the ruling.
In 2018, 6th Judicial District Judge Paul Miller ruled that because there was no provision in the law for a pretrial hearing, he instead would rule on the immunity issue until after Wilson was tried on the criminal charges. The immunity issue would then be decided based on trial evidence.
Trial evidence showed Wilson and a group of friends clashed with a rival group, including Kaleek Jones, 22, and his two cousins, D'Andre Hicks, 29, and Xavier Hicks, on the mall over a Facebook post that made derogatory comments about Wilson's friend who died in a car crash.
Wilson fired his gun five times at Jones, who was struck in the back and neck and killed, and Xavier Hicks and D'Andre Hicks, who were seriously injured.
Wilson, who testified during his trial, admitted to having two guns and a permit to carry. He said he feared for his life that night and was forced to defend himself and others.
A Polk County jury found Wilson, originally charged with first-degree murder, guilty of a lesser charge, voluntary manslaughter, two counts of assault with intent to cause serious injury and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. The trial was moved from Johnson County because of pretrial publicity.
Justice Mansfield also agreed with Judge Miller, who said in his immunity ruling that there was 'undisputed” evidence and testimony that Wilson 'indiscriminately discharged” a gun five times into a crowd, striking and killing three unarmed individuals.
All three men were running away when they were shot, Mansfield noted in the ruling.
Wilson, in his appeal, argued the word 'indiscriminately” cannot be equated to an intent to kill or injury, which is needed to prove voluntary manslaughter, but Mansfield said the evidence 'readily supports” the jury finding Wilson intentionally shot at people.
Wilson also argued in the appeal his trial should have exonerated him in the post-trial immunity determination.
Mansfield, in the ruling, said there was substantial evidence for the trial court to find Wilson wasn't entitled to immunity after considering trial evidence and two depositions that were not part of the trial. The evidence at trial offered little support to Wilson's justification defense, he said.
Miller, in his ruling, said Wilson never accused any person of pointing a firearm at him before firing his gun. Miller concluded Wilson wasn't justified in using force, according to the law.
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