Public Safety

Illinois man acquitted of sexual abuse, sues Iowa City, Johnson County

IOWA CITY — An Illinois man accused and acquitted of sexual assault is suing Iowa City, the investigating officer and Johnson County.

The claims in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Joshua Venckus, 27, stem from a sexual assault investigation from February 2013 and the subsequent investigation and court proceedings.

However, the Iowa City attorney said in a statement that the lawsuit does not tell the whole story.

The lawsuit states that on Feb. 25, 2013, Venckus’ roommates hosted a “Cowboys and Indians” themed party at their house in the 500 block of Van Buren Street in Iowa City. At the time, Venckus was at his parents’ home in Chicago without a driver’s license or access to a vehicle.

During the party, a woman identified in court documents as L.M. became intoxicated “to the point of getting sick and incapacitated,” court documents state. The woman was moved to a couch and covered with pillows and a blanket from Venckus’ room.

“The blanket covering L.M. was replete with (Venckus’) DNA,” the lawsuit states.

Court documents state after the party, Ryan L. Markley, 30, broke into home and sexually assaulted L.M. She escaped and sought help from a witness in an alley who later reported seeing one person fleeing the house. Police responded and found Markley’s wallet in a window well at the house, his handprint on a window used to enter the basement and a footprint belonging to Markley’s boot on a chair inside the window. A marijuana wipe also was stolen from the basement and later found in Markley’s apartment, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states that the investigation initially focused on Markley until DNA testing came back with two DNA profiles — Markley’s and that of an unknown male. An investigation determined that Venckus’ DNA was found in L.M.’s cervix. Venckus was arrested Jan. 24, 2014 and charged with second-degree sexual abuse.

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Venckus was acquitted after evidence was presented that the DNA found in the service “represented evidence of a transfer from the blanket covering the victim and could not represent the sole evidence of DNA left by a rapist,” the lawsuit states.

Markley pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse and second-degree burglary. He remains in custody at the Iowa Medical & Classification Center with a tentative or supervision discharge date of June 2023, according to the Department of Corrections.

Venckus claims in the lawsuit that he provided investigator Andrew Rich with his cellphone and a bank card to prove he was out of town. He also provided police with names of people who could verify he was in Chicago at the time of the crime. Venckus’ defense attorney also provided police and prosecutors with evidence that supported the alibi.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence that (Venkus) could not have been the perpetrator and the clear evidence that Ryan Lee Markley was the sole perpetrator, the defendants continued their reckless crusade to convict an innocent man of this awful crime,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims the county attorney’s office “shopped” for an expert who would testify that DNA transferring from the blanket was not possible.

Venkus alleges defamation, abuse of process and malicious prosecution and seeks unspecified damages.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she could not comment on pending litigation. In an email, Iowa City attorney Eleanor Dilkes said “there are relevant facts that are not included in Mr. Venckus’ petition, including the presence of his DNA on the victim’s body beyond that described in the petition.”

“The City is confident there were reasonable grounds on which to charge Mr. Venckus, notwithstanding the jury’s subsequent decision that the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for a criminal conviction was not met.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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