Public Safety

Judge denies immunity in Cedar Rapids stand-your-ground case

Men fired at each other 'almost simultaneously' outside bar

Defense attorney Tyler Johnston (left) displays a piece of evidence June 27 to Michael Hodges Jr. at a hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Hodges is charged with the attempted murder of Zevon Johnson after he shot Johnson in the chest during an altercation in January outside a Cedar Rapids bar. Monday, a judge denied Hodges’ argument that he should not be prosecuted because of Iowa’s stand your ground law. (Rebecca Miller/The Gazette)
Defense attorney Tyler Johnston (left) displays a piece of evidence June 27 to Michael Hodges Jr. at a hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Hodges is charged with the attempted murder of Zevon Johnson after he shot Johnson in the chest during an altercation in January outside a Cedar Rapids bar. Monday, a judge denied Hodges’ argument that he should not be prosecuted because of Iowa’s stand your ground law. (Rebecca Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge denied immunity Monday to a Cedar Rapids man who asserted he had shot another armed man in self-defense and therefore shouldn’t be prosecuted under Iowa’s stand-your-ground law.

Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady said there is lack of clear pretrial procedure to determine immunity for Michael Hodges Jr. — who, based on the “minutes of testimony and other undisputed facts” shot his gun almost simultaneously with the other gunman, Zevon Johnson, 21, of Urbandale, on Jan. 28 outside Pub 217, 217 Third St. NE in Cedar Rapids.

Hodges, 23, in an earlier hearing, testified he believed his life was in danger because of previous altercations with Johnson and his friends.

Hodges, who had a permit to carry a weapon, claimed during the hearing that Johnson fired at him first.

But according to the criminal complaints, the men fired simultaneously. Johnson fired without hitting Hodges. But Hodges fired and struck Johnson in the chest. Hodges is charged with attempted murder, willful injury causing serious injury and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. His trial is set to start July 23.

In Monday’s ruling, Grady said he reviewed cases in other states over pretrial evidentiary hearings for requests of dismissing charges on the grounds of immunity. But Iowa’s law has different language that doesn’t provide for immunity from criminal prosecution — only “criminal liability.”

The Iowa law took effect July 1, 2017 and has not been clarified by legislative action or appeals rulings, he noted.

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Grady said what is undisputed is that Hodges and Johnson used deadly force. Because both fired almost simultaneously, Hodges isn’t entitled to the presumption that his actions were justified.

The record also shows Hodges isn’t accused of being involved in any illegal activity at the time, so he had no duty to retreat. He also went to the police following the shooting and turned in his gun, Grady added.

Even without the changed law, Hodges could claim justification as a defense. But it must be claimed at trial.

Grady pointed out that his ruling would not prevent a trial judge from granting a motion for a directed verdict after the prosecution rested. It is a typical procedure for the defense to ask for a directed verdict of acquittal at the end of the prosecution’s case, arguing there is lack of sufficient evidence.

In two other test cases of stand your ground, defense and prosecution acknowledged the Iowa law is confusing because it doesn’t include the same language as similar laws in other states and lacks a procedure for determining if a person is entitled to immunity.

It’s up to the discretion of a judge — which has yielded different outcomes in different cases.

Johnson, who initially also asked for immunity, instead pleaded guilty earlier this month to carrying weapons, an aggravated misdemeanor. He admitted to carrying a firearm within the city limits without a permit on Jan. 28, according to the plea filed in Linn County District Court. He faces a fine and up to two years in jail.

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

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