Public Safety

Court upholds murder conviction for Mount Pleasant man who fatally shot Iowa City cab driver

Curtis Jones enters the courtroom for a hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2019.
Curtis Jones enters the courtroom for a hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2019. Jones was found guilty of first-degree murder in the April 22, 2017, slaying of Jonathan Wieseler. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The Iowa Court of Appeals Wednesday upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Mount Pleasant man, convicted of fatally shooting an Iowa City cabdriver in 2017.

Curtis Cortez Jones, 44, convicted in November 2018 for killing Ricky Lillie, 46, in his Yellow Cab on June 27, 2017, appealed his conviction and asked for a new trial, arguing the trial court shouldn’t have allowed the jury to hear statements he made to police.

Jones didn’t confess to the crime but made incriminating statements, which he argued in an appeal, should have be tossed out because officers used “intimidation tactics,” and he was under the influence of marijuana and anti-anxiety medication before the recorded interview.

The court ruled his statements were voluntary and there was no evidence of impairment. Jones “tracks the officers’ questions and answers coherently” throughout the interview, according to the ruling.

Jones waived his rights and was willing to talk to officers, according to the ruling. When officers started questioning him about the fatal shooting, Jones seemed to change his tone, officers said. His responses became inconsistent and he wouldn’t provide a coherent answer, asserting he was “high.” Jones said he had used “marijuana wax” and taken Xanax earlier that day.

Officers said Jones then kept mentioning using drugs rather than answer their questions, the ruling shows. The officers believed the drug references were an excuse for his “inability or unwillingness” to provide an accurate statement. Both of these officers had specialized training in identifying someone under the influence, and neither believed Jones was impaired.

The appeals court points out that those statements were only a small slice of the prosecution’s case. Over the 15-day trial, there were over 40 witnesses, more than a 100 exhibits, including the record police interview, and other evidence.

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There is “little support” for Jones’ coercion claim, according to the ruling. He was 41-years-old at the time and had an extensive criminal record, which indicates he understood police interviews and his rights.

The record doesn’t show the officers’ tactics “defeated his capacity of self-determination,” the ruling states. The officers did accuse Jones of lying but they mostly talked to him in a calm manner. Jones statements were voluntary and admissible at trial.

Trial testimony showed Jones shot Lillie while he was a passenger in Lillie’s Yellow Cab. Lillie was shot once on the right side of his head with the muzzle pressed against his skin and then shot in the face at close range.

According to testimony, Jones killed Lillie during a robbery while the cab was parked near a motel in southwest Iowa City.

Last year, Jones also was convicted of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of an Iowa City bail bondsman, Jonathan Wieseler, 34, on April 22, 2017 at Lederman Bail Bonds in downtown Iowa City.

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

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