Public Safety

Man charged in 1985 homicide cold case reaches plea deal

No first-degree murder charge or jail time for Anthony Burtch

(File Photo) Defendant Anthony Burtch enters the courtroom at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Friday, May
(File Photo) Defendant Anthony Burtch enters the courtroom at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Friday, May 20, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Anthony Burtch, accused in the 1985 fatal shooting of his wife’s boyfriend, accepted a plea deal Tuesday that will result in the dismissal of a first-degree murder charge and no further time behind bars.

As part of the deal, Burtch, 58, pleaded guilty to obstructing prosecution in the more than 30-year-old cold case. Charges of first-degree murder and carrying weapons are to be dismissed at sentencing, which is set for Feb. 23 in Johnson County District Court. The plea also stipulates that Assistant Johnson County Attorney Jude Pannell will recommend a six-month jail sentence with credit for six months served.

Burtch was accused of killing Lance DeWoody, 22, on Aug. 12, 1985. DeWoody was the boyfriend of Burtch’s then-wife and prosecutors alleged Burtch shot him in the head and face. DeWoody’s body was discovered on Aug. 13, 1985, in a picnic shelter on the north side of the University of Iowa’s Oakdale campus.

Burtch agreed to a similar plea deal — one without the obstruction charge — last Thursday, but then withdrew that plea on Friday after a judge did not approve it.

Clemens Erdahl, Burtch’s lawyer, said the trial information was amended to include the obstruction charge, which was the appropriate charge, and Burtch accepted it Tuesday. Sixth Judicial District Judge Paul Miller also approved the plea Tuesday.

In the plea, Burtch admits he gave different statements to law enforcement officials regarding people he claimed harassed him back in 1985. Police said Burtch initially told investigators that he and DeWoody had been harassed by a trio of men in the months leading up to DeWoody’s death, but an investigation revealed those men didn’t exist.

DeWoody and Burtch’s now ex-wife were together the night of Aug. 12, 1985, and then she returned to her husband. Shortly thereafter, Burtch left for about 90 minutes.

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Erdahl said Burtch maintains his innocence in the killing of DeWoody and said his client agreed to the plea deal to avoid going to trial on the murder charge and possibly facing life in prison if convicted.

Erdahl said cold cases are difficult because so much time has passed and in the defense’s case, five or six witnesses they wanted to have testify were dead.

“The reality of a cold case is sometimes, you have to make a compromise to get past it,” Erdahl said. “Our investigator did a good job and the Coralville police and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office were reasonable in resolving this.”

Pannell said Tuesday he couldn’t say much at this point but can explain more after sentencing.

There were obvious issues with the case last year when Judge Miller released Burtch from jail with GPS monitoring and other conditions, pending trial, when he learned new testing on DNA evidence found at the crime scene didn’t implicate Burtch. The prosecution believed the testing would strengthen its case based on technological advances that were not available back in 1985.

Miller in his order last September said the DNA found at the picnic shelter didn’t match Burtch “but rather excludes him as a contributor to the DNA profile.”

Miller also noted it appeared the prosecution was relying on the same evidence it felt was insufficient 30 years ago to charge Burtch at the time.

Since 1985, there were reviews of the case but none resulted in an arrest, until authorities took another look in 2013. In January of last year, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent met with Burtch and he denied his earlier story about being harassed by the men, and authorities obtained a DNA sample through a court order.

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Burtch, who previously pleaded not guilty, allegedly said afterward that he would be “buried by the sciences of this thing.” Burtch was then arrested and charged in March 2016.

Erdahl, when asked if he could explain that statement on Tuesday, said Burtch just repeated what an investigator told him during questioning. Burtch wasn’t admitting or agreeing to the statement, Erdahl said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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