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Updated: Man accused in Iowa City landlord slaying pleads guilty to misdemeanor
IOWA CITY - A man accused of killing an Iowa City landlord went from facing life in prison to possibly no jail time Friday after an unexpected plea agreement with the Johnson County Attorney's Office.
Charles Thompson, 19, of Iowa City, pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact, an aggravated misdemeanor, in the slaying of John Versypt, 64, of Cordova, Ill, who was working on his units in the Broadway Condominiums Oct. 8, 2009.
Thompson was originally charged with first-degree murder. The state amended the charge Friday to the misdemeanor, which carries a two-year prison term.
Tyler Johnston, Thompson's attorney, said Friday that Thompson has been in jail since 2009 and likely won't have to serve more time. Thompson will remain in jail until he is sentenced June 11, and after he testifies against co-defendant, Justin Marshall, 20, as part of the plea deal, Johnston said.
Marshall's first-degree murder trial has been reset to May 22.
The other co-defendant in the case, Courtney White, 23, of Coralville, who also is charged with first-degree murder, will be tried March 6.
Police believe Versypt was killed during a robbery attempt.
Amended trial information filed early Friday by the state says Thompson admitted that he knew Marshall and another man killed Versypt. Thompson also admitted to helping Marshall dispose of clothing worn the day of the fatal shooting. White wasn't mentioned in the information.
“I think this was a fair result,” Johnston said. “I think the prosecution learned things in the course of the investigation that were not immediately apparent when the investigation began. I think the community will be satisfied that the appropriate people will be punished.”
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness didn't return a phone message but sent out a news release, which is her only comment on the case.
“Following the mistrial, the Iowa City Police Department, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Johnson County Attorney's Office continued their investigation into the death of John Versypt,” Lyness said in the statement. “Based upon that investigation, the County Attorney's Office and the investigators determined that accessory after the fact was an appropriate resolution for Mr. Thompson's case.”
Lyness in the statement said she talked to Versypt's family about the amended charge and they agreed with it.
Thompson was facing a retrial in the case, which was set to start Monday. A judge granted a mistrial in September after Lyness played a portion of a videotape that had been previously ruled inadmissible.
Laurie Levenson, Loyola Law School professor in Los Angeles, Calif., said court cases always “look better on paper” than when they reach the courtroom.
“It sounds like the prosecutor had to take a long hard look at her case and realized it wasn't first-degree,” said Levenson, also a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. “She may not have been aware of the case she had. It doesn't happen a lot but it happens.”
Robert Rigg, a Drake Law School professor, said the defense has “leverage over the prosecution” when they have someone to testify.
“The county attorney may have been in a position of whether they want to retry or can we get a defendant to testify,” Rigg said.
Rigg and Levenson said it's not uncommon in an ongoing investigation to discover new evidence and alter charges. About 98 percent of cases end up in plea agreements.
During the first trial, the prosecution didn't have any witnesses who could identify Thompson as the shooter. Most of the case was based on circumstantial evidence.
One witness, James Brown, said he was at the apartment where Thompson and Marshall lived the night before the shooting and saw a gun. Brown said Thompson explained he had to protect his family.
Thompson's clothing had components of gunshot residue, according to testimony, but not all the evidence was submitted and the defense hadn't started it's case before the mistrial was declared.