116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - A judge this week denied a prosecution motion to join trials for two 17-year-olds accused of killing Malik Sheets last summer with the trial of two others accused of helping cover it the slaying.
Marshawn Jeffries and Christian Emedi, both 17, of Cedar Rapids, will be tried together, but First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks also wanted the trial to include Jeffries' brother, Miguel Ruiz, 24, and Aleah Anderman, 17.
Sheets, 20, of Cedar Rapids and a University of Iowa student, was shot and killed about 5 a.m. June 18 during a party at 1058 Regent Ave. NE.
At a hearing last month, Maybanks argued it would be more efficient because all charges stem from the fatal shooting of Sheets and involves some of the same evidence and witnesses.
He said Ruiz and Anderman wouldn't be prejudiced because none of the four are incriminating each other. Ruiz and Anderman aren't accused of killing Sheets but with helping cover up the crime after it happened, he said.
Ruiz, of Round Lake Beach, Ill., is charged with obstruction of prosecution and accessory after the fact, both aggravated misdemeanors. He is accused of driving Jeffries, Emedi and Anderman to a residence in North Liberty where they took showers, changed clothing and arranged to dispose of the clothing they were wearing at the party where Sheets was killed, according to the complaint.
Anderman, of Cedar Rapids, who is Emedi's girlfriend, is charged with perjury, a felony, and accessory after the fact, an aggravated misdemeanor. She is accused of not being truthful during a deposition with prosecutors and obstructing officers' efforts to locate evidence and Emedi and Jeffries.
In his Thursday ruling, Thornhill said in each case all the charged offenses are associated with the fatal shooting of Sheets or the alleged attempt to cover it up or 'thwart” authorities.
The evidence overlaps all the defendants, which is the basis for the prosecution's efficiency argument. But efficiency isn't the only factor the court has to consider, Thornhill stated.
The court also has to look at the circumstances that warrant separate trials - length of trial, complexity of issues and the risk that those factors will prohibit the jury from being able to compartmentalize the evidence against each defendant during one trial.
Thornhill also said trying Ruiz and Anderman with the other two creates a 'serious risk” that they could be prejudiced because a jury will be asked to decide their guilt or innocence at the same time at Jeffries and Emedi, who face more serious charges.
Defense attorneys for each defendant, during last month's hearing, vehemently argued their clients would be prejudiced, the trial would be too long and it would be a 'logistical nightmare” with eight attorneys and four defendants at counsel tables.
Thornhill, in the ruling, said a jury also would have to 'navigate” a complex set of jury instructions in reaching four separate verdicts.
And while he doesn't doubt jurors' abilities to process and follow the law, the arrangement could create a risk that Ruiz and Anderman may be convicted on the strength of the evidence supporting the murder charges, rather than evidence in their charged offenses.
Thornhill also reset the trial for Jeffries and Emedi to Nov. 16.
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