Public Safety

Curtis Jones gets life in prison for killing Iowa City cabdriver

Mount Pleasant man faces another trial this month in fatal shooting of bondsman

Curtis Jones enters the courtroom for his sentencing at the Johnson County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. A Scott County jury found Jones guilty of first-degree murder in the 2017 death of cabdriver Ricky Lillie during a trial in November, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Friday. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Curtis Jones enters the courtroom for his sentencing at the Johnson County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. A Scott County jury found Jones guilty of first-degree murder in the 2017 death of cabdriver Ricky Lillie during a trial in November, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Friday. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — The mother of an Iowa City cabdriver fatally shot in 2017 said she is glad the “monster” who killed her son will be behind bars the rest of his life but she wishes “Iowa had the death penalty.”

Peggy Armstrong, in a victim impact statement Friday during Curtis Jones’ sentencing, said her family will never forget hearing the horrible details of how her son, Ricky Lillie, 46, was shot twice in the head at close range.

She said she’s thankful her son has “found peace” but she and the rest of the family will always be “short one person,” she said.

“May God bless the family of Jonathan Wieseler as they have to go through a trial like our family,” Armstrong said, referring to the slain bail bondsman who Jones is also charged with fatally shooting.

Jones, 42, of Mount Pleasant, was convicted of first-degree murder by a Scott County jury in just over an hour following a 11-day trial in November. The trial was moved out of Johnson County because of extensive pretrial publicity. On Friday, a judge sentenced Jones to a mandatory life term in prison without parole.

Trial testimony showed Jones shot Lillie 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.

During Friday’s sentencing, Jones said, “I’m not a monster. My name is Curtis Jones.” Jones said he was innocent and charged by an “overzealous county attorney” who summoned witnesses “bought and paid for to lie.”

“My past history is why I’m here. ... Nothing else,” Jones said.

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He also claimed he didn’t have a fair trial because the jury wasn’t one of peers. “It was 12 white citizens. My trial was a sham. … Unconstitutional,” he said.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Sixth Judicial District Judge Chad Kepros said to Jones. “I took great pains to ensure you had a fair trial.”

Kepros said because the sentence is mandatory, he had no discretion, but it is “appropriate for this violent and senseless act,” he said.

He also ordered Jones to pay $150,000 to Lillie’s estate or heirs.

Lillie’s family, in a statement following the hearing, thanked the police and investigators who worked “tirelessly” on the case and assistant Johnson County attorneys Mike Ringle and Elizabeth Beglin for presenting the evidence in way that was easy for them to understand. They also thanked the Horizons Survivors Program advocates that helped guide them through the court process.

“We are happy with the verdict and sentencing but will always miss Rick,” said Lillie’s cousin Lucy Miller, tearing up during the statement. “We are completely thankful that he is locked up forever.”

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

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 the driver found Lillie dead in his cab.

Police later responded to a car being stolen in Keota, which led to Jones as the suspect in Lillie’s death. Jones denied stealing the car or killing Lillie, investigators said. He did admit to getting into Lillie’s cab but said he didn’t take it to the motel. He said he got out at a grocery store and another man got into the cab.

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Evidence from the cab’s GPS system didn’t indicate any stop at the store, and there was video surveillance footage from the motel that showed Jones was the only person who got out of Lillie’s cab, according to trial testimony.

Jones is also charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of bail bondsman Jonathan Wieseler, 34, who was killed April 22, 2017, at Lederman Bail Bonds in downtown Iowa City.

That trial, also moved out of Johnson County based on pretrial publicity, is set for Jan. 11 in Polk County District Court.

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

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