CEDAR RAPIDS — A 51-year-old Marion man went missing May 31, 2014, but little information was known to authorities or shared with the public until years later when a dig site was set up at a farmhouse in Ely and a separate trial got underway in federal court.
Shortly after James Booher went missing, authorities considered him a homicide victim, but nobody was charged in his death.
Evidence from the first trial for Matthew Robbins, 46, of Ely, which ended in a hung jury, showed Robbins knew Booher and had bought meth from him.
Robbins and another man are accused of robbing Booher on June 1, 2014 — the day after police say Booher was last seen alive, according to court documents in the firearms case. Robbins and a friend identified as Danielle Busch, 30, of Cedar Rapids, bought meth from Booher on May 31, 2014.
Robbins and Busch used the meth and later contacted Booher to set up a time to buy a larger quantity, according to court documents. Booher went to Robbins’ home later that night and wasn’t seen after that visit, according to court documents.
Booher was reported missing by his sister June 3, and his truck was found abandoned June 9.
A person looking for Booher testified he went to Robbins’ home, and Robbins answered the door holding a .45-caliber handgun.
In May 2015, during an investigation into Robbins, a forensics team that specializes in identifying human remains set up a dig site at a rural Ely farmhouse where Robbins once lived to search for evidence in Booher’s death.
Court documents showed Robbins later moved out of the farmhouse on Nederhiser Road and, before doing so, removed carpet, furnishings and fixtures — which he burned behind the house.
No human remains were found, but federal agents did recover a .45-caliber shell casing in the burn pile, according to court documents.
After Robbins’ first trial, he pleaded guilty in 2016 to being a felon and unlawful drug user in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
What’s happened since
Robbins, Busch and William L. Yancey, 43, of Cedar Rapids, were charged in May 2019 with robbery affecting interstate commerce, conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce and using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder, according to an unsealed indictment.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment at the time on whether Booher’s body had been found.
Both Robbins and Yancey were already serving prison terms for drug and firearm convictions. Robbins had been linked to Booher’s disappearance during his trial but had been charged with only firearms and drug offenses.
All three defendants are accused of robbing Booher of methamphetamine and money by force on May 31, 2014, according to the indictments. They also are accused of having a firearm during the robbery and fatally shooting Booher.
The firearms charge is a “death constituting murder” charge under federal law.
Federal prosecutors said the case was eligible for the death penalty, which was up to the U.S. Justice Department, but officials decided they would not pursue this case for the death penalty if the defendants are found guilty.
In April, Busch pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce and using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder.
Busch, during the plea hearing, admitted that she “voluntarily or intentionally” agreed with two or more people to commit a robbery on or after May 31, 2014.
She also admitted that a co-conspirator used or carried a firearm during the robbery.
She admitted the crime committed was part of the conspiracy and that discharging the firearm caused Booher’s death.
Busch faces up to 20 years on the conspiracy conviction, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release after prison. On the firearms conviction, she faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and possibly up to life, a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release.
Her sentencing is set for Nov. 12.
Yancey’s trial is set for Oct. 13, and Robbins’ trial was just reset to Nov. 30.
This past week, court documents filed show federal prosecutors will have several experts testify at Robbins’ trial regarding the archaeological examination of a debris pile found at the Ely dig site.
Dr. Krista Latham, an associate professor of biology and anthropology at the University of Indianapolis, will testify about her specific findings in this case and the general process of an archaeological examination, according to court documents.
An analyst, Charity Davis with the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., will testify about the examination of bone fragments for the presence of DNA.
Another expert will testify about scene reconstruction, including the use of 3D scan data to create a virtual model of the residence in Ely.
Other experts with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in Ankeny and an associate state medical examiner will testify about the crime processing of evidence found in Ely, including a tooth root found in the burn pit.
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