116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Four years ago on a September day, Shafona Jones buried her 22-year-old son, Kaleek. This year, she got a “smack in the face” when Iowa’s parole board granted early release to her son’s killer after he served just three and half years of a 24-year prison sentence.
“I just felt … It was a numbing feeling — a void I can’t describe,” Shafona Jones, of Iowa City, told The Gazette after the Iowa Board of Parole announced Tuesday that Lamar C. Wilson, 27, was given work release.
“Tears were streaming down my face,” she said. “I don’t feel like justice was served. I had Kaleek when I was 15. I lived more years with him than without him.”
Wilson was sentenced in 2018 to 24 years for voluntary manslaughter, two counts of assault with intent to commit serious injury and intimidation with a dangerous weapon for fatally shooting Kaleek Jones and injuring two others, Xavier Hicks and his cousin, D’Andre Hicks, on Aug. 27, 2017, on the downtown Iowa City Pedestrian Mall
Wilson originally was charged with first-degree murder, which would have been a mandatory life sentence without parole. But a Polk County jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, a 10-year prison term without a mandatory minimum to serve. The trial was moved from Johnson County because of pretrial publicity.
The two assault charges led to a four-year term, and there was a mandatory minimum of five years on a 10-year sentence for using a gun. But Wilson received good time credit for that requirement, which made him eligible for work release now, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
He will be released from Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility within the next 30 days and sent to a work release facility — a halfway house — where he will be allowed to leave for a job. The board also set Wilson’s discharge from parole in 2023 if he has no violations before then.
Shafona Jones was allowed to make a statement during Wilson’s parole interview, which was held virtually because of the pandemic. She asked the board not to release a killer who took the “most amazing human being” from her family.
She also asked the four board members, appointed by the governor, if they would want to live next door to a man who shot one man in the back, and also injured two others who were unarmed. They didn’t respond.
The mother then pointed out that Wilson had been charged in 2013 in a fatal shooting in Chicago — but was acquitted — that he was a gang member and that his convictions in her son’s slaying were upheld last year by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Wilson, during the interview, told the board he wasn’t a “gang member anymore.” When asked by a board member how he got out, Wilson never answered, Jones said.
Appeal ruling and trial
In her statement, Jones cited Associate Justice Edward Mansfield, who stated in the court’s appeal ruling that there was “undisputed” evidence and testimony that Wilson “indiscriminately discharged” a gun five times into a crowd, striking and killing one and injuring two others. All three men were running away when they were shot, Mansfield said in the ruling.
Wilson was denied his “stand-your-ground” appeal. The court ruled he wasn’t entitled to immunity as the shootings were not justified under Iowa law.
The stand-your-ground provision was part of a sweeping gun rights bill in the Iowa Legislature, enacted a month before Wilson committed the fatal shooting. Wilson’s case was the first to test the immunity law in Eastern Iowa. But the trial judge had denied Wilson immunity under the stand-your-ground defense in a separate hearing after his trial.
Jones said Wilson told the board he was sorry about the shooting of Kaleek, “who was like a little brother,” but she told the members that someone doesn’t shoot their “little brother” — and Tuesday was the first time Wilson has ever expressed remorse, she said.
In fact, Jones said, at a previous parole interview in November, the board suggested Wilson participate in a class for inmates on victim empathy. She doesn’t know if Wilson ever took that suggestion.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Paul Miller, during the March 2018 sentencing, noted then that Wilson hadn’t expressed any remorse for the shootings.
Jones said the board didn’t give much reasoning for its decision. Wilson had done fairly well in prison and hadn’t had many reports of violations, and Wilson told them he had a job lined up at an area landscaping company.
Parole board statement
Andrew Boettger, chair of the parole board, confirmed in a statement that the board, on recommendation from the Iowa Department of Corrections and based on interviews, granted Wilson work release. But he didn’t answer questions about what made Wilson a good candidate for release after serving only a little more than an eighth of a sentence for a gun violence crime that resulted in death.
Boettger, in an email, said that in addition to standard release conditions, “special conditions” of Wilson’s work release include that he can’t be discharged early from parole, which is set for Feb. 8, 2023, must be subject to intensive supervision, have no contact with the victims or victims’ families and complete substance abuse treatment and cognitive-based programming while at the work release facility. The facility where Wilson will go hasn’t been posted on the Department of Corrections website.
Boettger also said Wilson will be required to be reviewed by the board before being granted street parole if he “earns that opportunity” before the parole ending date.
Boettger told The Gazette last month that he wanted to eliminate crowding of the sate’s nine prisons over the next two years and had a goal of reducing the population to “100 percent capacity or less.”
As of that day when he spoke to a reporter, the total population at all nine prisons was 7,786, which is over the total design capacity for 6,993 inmates.
“There certainly are some folks where we make a decision and we know that it’s a measured risk — that’s just the nature of what we’re doing. We’re making tough calls,” Boettger said then.
During that interview, he pointed out the board considers a release candidate’s criminal history, especially violent or assaultive behavior, whether the offenses were rooted in drugs or a mental disorder, and getting down to “the granular level with each person” in assessing risk.
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, who prosecuted Wilson, said she didn’t understand the board’s decision to let him out of prison.
“I’m very concerned — really astounded the board let him out,” Lyness said. “He killed one man and seriously injured two others when he shot off a gun in downtown Iowa City.”
It seems reasonable when the parole board grants early release to inmates who have committed lesser or non-violent crimes such as drugs, forgeries and thefts, she said, but Wilson’s acts were “violent offenses — he terrorized the community” by shooting into a crowd.
“I’m concerned about the safety of the community,” Lyness said. “I hope he (Wilson) won’t be involved with the same groups that led to the violence that night, and I hope all the victims and their families remain safe.”
Jones said that was her concern, too. Her family has been harassed and threatened by those associated with Wilson after his trial, she said, and has reported incidents to police.
Father of two
Jones also shared with the board who her son was — “a loving man whose smile lit up the room.” He was a “chef who could cook anything.“ He worked at Coach’s Corner and Carlos O’Kelly’s in Iowa City. But his favorite job was being a father of two. Jones said it was bittersweet to learn his fiancee was pregnant with his third child, Asham, now 3, a day after his death.
Kaleek Jones loved being with kids — even if they weren’t his, Jones said. His other children — Lilliana Roze, 4, and Vari James, 7 — were constantly with him. Jones wants to make sure his children know who their father was and that he loved them. The family still celebrates his birthday.
Jones said she and her family are still grieving and in therapy to deal with their loss.
“In the beginning, I focused on getting justice and didn’t take time to realize how things would change,” Jones said. “I took off time for the trial and mentally prepared for it and then the sentencing. I was so focused on those that I didn’t prepare myself to close the casket. To never see his face again or kiss him. All of sudden it’s over and we have a new reality — a sobering reality that my family won’t be whole here on earth again.”
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