Public Safety

Curtis Jones found guilty of first-degree murder in cabdriver killing

Family relieved by verdict and thankful

Curtis Jones sits in the courtroom before a hearing at Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2018. Jones is charged with first-degree murder in the April 22, 2017 death of Jonathan Wieseler. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Curtis Jones sits in the courtroom before a hearing at Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2018. Jones is charged with first-degree murder in the April 22, 2017 death of Jonathan Wieseler. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DAVENPORT — A Scott County jury deliberated just over an hour Tuesday before finding Curtis Jones guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of an Iowa City cabdriver.

The 11-day trial wrapped up late Monday, and the jury started deliberations at 9 a.m. Tuesday and returned a verdict at 10:10 a.m., according to court officials.

Prosecutors said Jones, 42, of Mount Pleasant, shot Ricky Lillie, 46, on June 27, 2017, 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.

A forensic pathologist testified during the trial that Lillie could have died from either of the gunshots.

“We are so thankful for the verdict and finally having justice for Rick,” Lillie’s family said in a statement to The Gazette on Tuesday.

They also thanked the Iowa City Police Department, assistant Johnson County attorneys Mike Ringle and Elizabeth Beglin, and the advocates with Horizons Survivors Program who were by “our side from the fateful day.” The program supports families of homicide victims.

“Finally, we would like to thank the jurors,” Lillie’s family said. “They could not hide their eyes or leave for tough testimony like we could. They took this time out of their lives to do their civic duty and we want them to know they are appreciated and our family will be forever grateful. We are just overwhelmed by the hard work and the support we have received. We wish all involved on our team a lifetime of blessings.”

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, on behalf of her office, extended condolences to Lillie’s family and friends.

“While we know this verdict will not relieve them of the feeling of loss, we hope it will help them with their healing,” Lyness said.

She also thanked jury members for their time, and the Iowa City Police Department, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their work that led to identifying and charging Jones.

Trial testimony showed Jones killed Lillie during a robbery while the cab was parked near the Alexis Park Inn motel in Iowa City. Police found evidence that the suspect went through Lillie’s belongings, including his wallet, and stole his cash fares after shooting him.

Early on June 28, 2017, a Yellow Cab dispatcher noticed that Lillie’s cab hadn’t moved for hours, so another driver was sent to check on him sometime after 3 a.m., according to testimony. The dispatcher assumed Lillie fell asleep, which wasn’t unusual for overnight shifts. But Lillie wasn’t sleeping.

According to testimony, Lillie’s body was lying over on the passenger seat in a “contorted” position. His head was in the floorboard but one leg was up on the steering wheel.

Investigators testified that there was blood on the floorboard and on his body, and Lillie was dead.

They tracked the suspect to Keota, where he spent the night with his girlfriend, then stole a car from another woman, according to testimony. The car was recovered in Burlington and police found the suspect, later identified as Jones, at his mother’s home in Mount Pleasant.

Jones denied stealing the car and killing Lillie, investigators said. He did admit to getting into Lillie’s cab but said he didn’t take it to the Alexis Park Inn. He said he got out at a Hy-Vee and another man got into the cab.

But evidence from the cab’s GPS system didn’t indicate any stop at Hy-Vee and there was video surveillance footage from the motel that showed the only person who got out of Lillie’s cab was Jones.

The trial was moved out of Johnson County because of extensive news coverage.

Jones is also charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Jonathan Wieseler, 34, a bail bondsman killed April 22, 2017, at Lederman Bail Bonds in downtown Iowa City. That trial is set for Jan. 11 in Polk County District Court.

Jones faces life in prison without parole. Sentencing will be Jan. 4 in Johnson County District Court.

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

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