Public Safety

First of two claiming 'stand your ground' makes case to judge

Cedar Rapids man says he was fearful because of previous altercation

Michael Hodges, Jr. takes the stand for questioning at a hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Michael Hodges, Jr. is charged with the attempted murder of Zevon Johnson after he shot Johnson in the chest during an altercation between the two men in which Johnson also fired at Hodges. Both men are claiming immunity under Iowa’s new stand-your-ground law. (Rebecca Miller/The Gazette)
Michael Hodges, Jr. takes the stand for questioning at a hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Michael Hodges, Jr. is charged with the attempted murder of Zevon Johnson after he shot Johnson in the chest during an altercation between the two men in which Johnson also fired at Hodges. Both men are claiming immunity under Iowa’s new stand-your-ground law. (Rebecca Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man — the first of two seeking immunity from attempted murder charges in the same shooting to testify before a judge — said Wednesday he believed his life was in danger because of previous altercations with at least one of the three men who confronted him in January outside a bar.

Michael Hodges Jr., 23, said that Zevon Johnson, 21, of Urbandale, was one of the men who approached him Jan. 28 outside the 217 Pub, 217 Third St. SE, asking “What’s up” as he was holding a gun at his side.

Hodges, who had a permit to carry a weapon, said he and Johnson “exchanged words” before he pulled his own gun from his pocket and fired. But, he said, Johnson fired at him first,

According to a criminal complaint, Hodges is charged with attempted murder, willful injury and intimidation with a dangerous weapon.

Johnson is charged with attempted murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, going armed with intent and carrying weapons.

The complaint says the two men fired simultaneously at each other.

While Johnson was shot in the chest by Hodges, Johnson’s shot missed Hodges, according to complaint.

Both have said in court papers they want immunity from prosecution under Iowa’s controversial 2017 “stand your ground law.”

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A hearing for Hodges to testify about his assertion was Wednesday. A hearing for Johnson to make his case is set for July 9. He has said in documents that he fired because Hodges was shooting at him.

In court papers and in testimony, Hodges claimed he used deadly force against Johnson because he perceived Johnson’s actions to be a threat to his life, and therefore qualifies for immunity from “criminal liability.”

Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady said he wanted a chance to review surveillance video footage from downtown cameras, which captured the shooting, and police reports, before ruling.

The burden of proof for the claim is on Hodges. Grady will decide whether to grant immunity based on a preponderance of the evidence — meaning Hodges has to prove it is more likely than not that the force used was justified.

During the hearing, Hodges testified he didn’t know Johnson and his friends would be at the bar that night. He had arguments or fights with Johnson, his brother and their other friends on Nov. 5, 2017, and was “nervous” when he saw Johnson.

Tyler Johnston, Hodges’s attorney, asked if he and Johnson had planned to have a “duel.”

Hodges said no. He also said he had one or two alcoholic drinks but wasn’t intoxicated.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Rene Schulte, on cross examination, asked if Johnson pointed his gun at him before Hodges fired. Hodges admitted Johnson didn’t.

But he said Johnson holding the gun to his side and addressing him was threatening.

Schulte said she didn’t understand why Hodges walked toward Johnson, according to the video, if Hodges saw a gun.

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Hodges said he didn’t see that right away. He said he was “stepping out” around another person who was between him and Johnson, and that’s when he saw the gun at Johnson’s side.

The defense attorney argued Hodges wasn’t involved in criminal activity that night and turned himself in to police. Hodges also relinquished his gun and ammunition. Therefore, Johnston argued, Hodges should be granted immunity.

On the other hand, Schulte said, such justification isn’t allowed if the person isn’t threatened. Hodges admitted Johnson had the gun down to his side, and Hodges pulled up his gun first.

Schulte argued the question should go to a jury to decide.

Attorneys in these stand-your-ground cases have agreed the law is unclear. It doesn’t include the same language as similar laws in others states and leaves it up to the discretion of judges on how to proceed in determining immunity.

In two previous tests of the law, one judge didn’t question the language of the law, made a ruling before trial and freed a man. The other had many questions but ruled the case would go to trial and he would decide immunity later if necessary. He then ruled the law was void because of its vagueness.

In this shooting, two different judges are handling the cases.

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

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