116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WEBSTER CITY — After just two hours of deliberation, a Hamilton County jury Monday found a Grundy Center man guilty of first-degree murder for killing Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith during a standoff at his home in 2021.
Jurors also found Michael Thomas Lang, 42, guilty of attempted murder for shooting at the driver of an armored vehicle during the standoff and of assault on an officer for struggling with a Grundy Center police officer during a traffic stop beforehand.
After about three days of hearing testimony and evidence last week, the jury heard closing arguments Monday in the state’s case against Lang. They returned the verdict in about two hours.
Prosecutors said Lang led a city police officer on a 90-mph chase during an attempted traffic stop for speeding on April 9, 2021. Lang then fought with the officer, choking him before he was interrupted by a passerby and a sheriff’s deputy, according to the state.
Lang then fled home and refused to come to the door for officers. He shot Smith, 51 of Independence, with a shotgun when officers entered his house and tried to detain him, prosecutors said. Lang also fired a shotgun slug into the windshield of an armored vehicle when SWAT team officers moved on the house.
Lang was injured in a subsequent shootout.
The defense didn’t dispute what happened, but argued Lang’s actions didn’t amount to first-degree murder.
Smith, who was born in Cedar Rapids, was married and was the father of two children. The verdict falls on National Police Week, which honors officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. Smith’s name has been added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Iowa Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand told the jury that Smith was trying to get Lang to come out of his house after Lang struggled with the city police officer earlier that evening.
“Sgt. Smith was shot and killed by the defendant. … He was doing his job trying to get the defendant out of his house peacefully. The defendant is the one who decided to end this the way he did,” Hammerand said.
Instead of coming out, Lang shot Smith once in the chest with a 12-gauge slug and then fired a second round after Smith collapsed on the floor, striking his leg, Hammerand said.
Defense attorney Aaron Hawbaker said Smith’s death was senseless and tragic but didn’t amount to murder. He said, at best, his client was guilty of manslaughter.
The defense argued Lang simply reacted and didn’t have time to consider what was happening and wasn’t acting out of malice or with premeditation or with the intent to kill.
Hawbaker noted Lang shot only when officers attempted to enter the kitchen, where he was located. He said officers had told him they were going to send in a police dog, but when they opened the door, Lang instead saw Smith armed with a rifle.
“Quick, reactive actions are not premeditated. Quick reactions to a circumstance you did not anticipate are not deliberate. There is no time to reflect, no time to ponder,” Hawbaker said.
Hammerand called the defense’s manslaughter suggestion “insulting.”
“When they are coming upstairs, knocking on the kitchen door, he had time to reflect, he had time to think about it, he had time to make a decision,” Hammerand said.
He said Lang had been waiting for officers with a loaded shotgun in the dark kitchen. He said the location of the shots, the number of shots and Lang’s statements afterward showed his premeditation and intent to kill.
During the trial, other officers testified they heard Lang taunting them during the standoff and chuckling when he said he shot Smith in the chest.
“Law enforcement did everything they could to get the defendant to come out of that house, and he refused,” Hammerand said.
The assault on an officer charge pertains to allegations Lang attacked and choked a Grundy Center police officer during the speeding stop before the standoff. Hammerand said in that case Lang lured the officer out of town by refusing to stop until they were on an isolated gravel road. The attack ceased when a passerby and a sheriff’s deputy arrived to intervene.
The attempted murder charge involves firing a shotgun slug at the windshield of an armored vehicle when a SWAT team moved on his house at the end of the standoff.
The murder trial was moved from Grundy County to Hamilton County because of pretrial publicity. Sentencing will be at a later date. The murder charge is punishable by a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.