CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s not unusual for a county prosecutor to handle more than one pending homicide case within a year, but eight being resolved in 2018 is a much a higher rate than in the last several years, one Linn County prosecutor says.
First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said these kinds of cases typically take a year or two before making it to trial, so to have all but one end in convictions — and at least two resulting in life sentences — shows how effective the Linn County Attorney’s Office has been when it takes a case to trial.
Maybanks said significant costs, resources and time were saved last year because two cases didn’t go to trial, but no compromises were made. Those defendants — Nicholas Luerkens and Tim Evans — pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, a rare plea in Iowa because it’s an automatic life sentence without parole.
Luerkens, 35, of Cedar Rapids, was sentenced in June for killing his ex-girlfriend, 29-year-old Lynnsey Donald, in 2015. Evans, 39, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded guilty last month to robbing and killing a mother of three, 38-year-old Gina Fredericksen, in her garage April 29, 2018.
Maybanks said prosecution in both trials would have required expert testimony, which can cost “thousands of dollars.”
Many of last year’s murder trials drew heavy media attention because they involved unusual and brutal killings, such as a son killing his mother by choking her with a rotten apple or a man stalking his ex-girlfriend and fatally stabbing her in a grocery store parking lot as dozens of witnesses tried to intervene.
One vehicular homicide case gained the attention of Iowa lawmakers, leading to a change in Iowa’s law on texting while driving, Maybanks said.
A jury in April convicted Keith Furne, 35, of Cedar Rapids, who was sending text messages on his phone when his pickup slammed into a stopped car Nov. 3, 2016, killing sisters Selena Apodaca, 16, and Isabella Severson, 13, and severely injuring another sister, Elysia Severson.
Furne was found guilty of two counts of homicide by vehicle and one count of reckless driving resulting in serious injury. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Following the crash, the sisters’ family, friends and a group of Linn-Mar students went to the state Capitol in Des Moines to support efforts to make texting while driving a primary offense, which lawmakers adopted in 2017.
Looking ahead, Maybanks said five other murder cases could be resolved in 2019, including a 1979 cold case in which an arrest was made last month.
Jerry Burns, 65, of Manchester, was arrested Dec. 19 and charged with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko, a slaying that has haunted the Cedar Rapids community for decades. The teen was found dead in her parent’s Buick Electra in the Westdale Mall parking lot Dec. 20, 1979.
A criminal complaint shows Burns was identified by police through DNA and genetic genealogy.
Burns, who was 25 at the time of the crime, apparently had no obvious connection to Martinko and wasn’t on investigators’ radar until earlier this year when they asked a Virginia DNA company for help with the cold case.
Cases resolved in 2018:
• Kenyauta Vesey-Keith, 18, was acquitted Oct. 26 of first-degree murder, attempted murder, willful injury causing serious injury and intimidation with a weapon. Vesey-Keith claimed self-defense in the March 19, 2016, fatal shooting of 21-year-old Brandon Johnson and serious injury of then-16-year-old Deaveon Gaudlin, both of Cedar Rapids, during a street fight in the 1100 block of Maplewood Drive NE. Vesey-Keith was 16 at the time.
• Keith Furne, 35, of Cedar Rapids, was convicted April 18 for causing the deaths of two teen sisters and severely injuring a third Nov. 3, 2016, when he slammed his pickup into a stopped car while he was texting.
• Joseph Hubbard, 33, of Hiawatha, pleaded guilty April 27 to voluntary manslaughter. According to the plea hearing, Hubbard, during an argument with his mother, Susan Roman, 56, shoved pieces of a rotten apple into her mouth, causing her to choke to death Dec. 2, 2016. There was evidence that Hubbard has mental health issues, and the state and defense experts conceded there were “mental health concerns,” a prosecutor said. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
• Nicholas Luerkens pleaded guilty to first-degree murder May 17. He stabbed former girlfriend, 29-year-old Lynnsey Donald, 32 times on April 21, 2015, in the Marion Hy-Vee parking lot.
Initially found guilty by a jury in December 2015, his conviction was overturned on appeal in May 2017 because the state Supreme Court ruled the jury should have been allowed to consider an insanity defense.
In his second trial, he pleaded and was sentenced June 5 to life in prison.
• Gregory Davis, 29, of Marion, was convicted of first-degree murder Sept. 14. He fatally stabbed his former girlfriend, 29-year-old Carrie Davis, on Sept. 28, 2017, in the Marion home they shared and tried to conceal her body in a roll of carpet. He faces life in prison without parole, and his sentencing is set for Feb. 1.
• Darius Alexander, 20, of Cedar Rapids, and Emily Young, 21, of Iowa City, both pleaded to lesser charges in the fatal stabbing of Christopher Arteberry Jr., 18, of Cedar Rapids, during a marijuana robbery.
Alexander pleaded guilty Nov. 2 to aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter and aiding and abetting second-degree robbery. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Young pleaded guilty in March to two felony counts of perjury and accessory after the fact, an aggravated misdemeanor. She was sentenced this week to three years probation and 100 days in jail. She agreed to testify against Alexander in a trial.
• Tim Evans, 39, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Dec. 7 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He robbed and fatally assaulted Gina Frederiksen, 38, of Cedar Rapids, with a crowbar in April. He then set fire to her garage to cover up the crime.
• Troy Wilson, 47, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded guilty Dec. 14 to involuntary manslaughter as a habitual offender in the fatal assault of Scott Dexter, 38, of Cedar Rapids June 5, 2017, in Greene Square. Wilson admitted to “intentionally” striking Dexter in the head. He died June 9 after being taken off life support.
Wilson faces up to 15 years in prison. His sentencing is set for Feb. 20.
• Zackary Ildefonso, 24, of Cedar Rapids, is accused of fatally shooting Heidi Stephens, 33, and also trying to shoot her friend, Andrew Shank, 27, when they confronted Ildefonso about her stolen purse on Nov. 20, 2017. Ildefonso is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, trafficking stolen weapons and possession of a firearm by a felon.
His trial is set May 20.
• Kyler Junkins, 20, of Marion, is charged with first-degree burglary and first-degree murder in the death AnnaElise Edgeton, 18, on Jan. 13, 2018, in her home at the Shamrock Apartments, 316 Jacolyn Drive. His trial is set Feb. 4.
• Rayshaun Friend, 29, of Cedar Rapids, was charged July 6 with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and going armed with intent. He is accused of fatally shooting Tarrence Newman, 40, of Cedar Rapids, on Nov. 12, 2017. A criminal complaint shows Newman was killed for money and drugs. Friend’s trial is set March 25.
• Melinda K. Lawrence, 59, of Central City, is charged with first-degree murder, homicide by vehicle and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. She is accused of intentionally driving her 2006 Buick Rendezvous over a cyclist, Jeffrey Alan Scott, 54, of Central City, and killing him Aug. 30, 2018. Her trial is set for May 6.
• Jerry Burns, 65, of Manchester, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko. Martinko was found dead in her parent’s vehicle in the Westdale Mall parking lot Dec. 20, 1979. His trial hasn’t been set.
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