Judge moves Curtis Jones murder trial out of Johnson County

Trial start date to be rescheduled

(File photo) Curtis Jones during a pretrial conference at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Jones is accused in the death of Iowa City cabdriver Ricky Lillie on June 27. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The trial for a man accused of killing an Iowa City cabdriver in June will be moved to another county based on extensive pretrial publicity, including the defendant’s past criminal history and police questioning about another homicide, in which he hasn’t been charged.  

Sixth Judicial District Judge Chad Kepros said Friday during a hearing in Johnson County District Court that a new trial date for Curtis C. Jones, 41, will not be set until a county for the trial has been determined. He added it probably will not take long to find a county that can accommodate the trial.

Jones is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ricky Lillie, 46. He also is facing first-degree robbery charges. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole on the murder charge and 25 years on the robbery charge.

During Friday’s hearing, Jones waived his right to a speedy trial and asked the court to reset his trial date, which had previously been set for Oct. 16.

Iowa City police said Jones entered Lillie’s cab sometime around 11 p.m. on June 27 in Iowa City. Lillie drove Jones non-stop to the 500 block of Ernest Street on the south side of town. Authorities allege Jones then shot Lillie in the head. Lillie’s body was discovered during the early morning hours of June 28.

Quint Meyerdirk, Jones’ lawyer, said seating a fair and impartial jury would be nearly impossible in Johnson County, based on the numerous newspaper and online articles and television broadcasts about the homicide and Jones. The only way, he saw, to accomplish this would be to conduct individual questioning of jurors, but it would likely take days to select a jury.

Meyerdirk said the press coverage has been inflammatory because it has brought up Jones’ past criminal history and there have been numerous comments regarding the homicide on social media, including racial comments.

Meyerdirk, in a recent court motion to suppress statements made to police by Jones, mentioned that police questioned him about another homicide of a bail bondsman, Jonathan Wieseler, 34, who was found shot to death April 23 at Lederman Bail Bonds in Iowa City, where Wieseler worked.

Jones has not been arrested in connection with that fatal shooting, and police said last week they have not “officially” named Jones a suspect in that investigation.

Kepros said that information, along with the many articles and broadcasts about Jones’ criminal history, concerned him and he had no hesitation with moving the trial out of Johnson County.

Meyerdirk, in asking to reset the trial date, told the judge he still had “hundreds of hours” of surveillance videos to review, along with “hundreds of pages of reports” and dozens of photos.

Meyerdirk, in his motion, said Jones also is asking him to hire multiple experts and locate certain witnesses and get them subpoenaed to testify. Jones also wants his lawyer to obtain additional video footage and obtain background information on the victim, according to the motion.  

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Mike Ringle didn’t resist change of venue or continuing the trial date.

The motion to suppress statements made to police by Jones wasn’t discussed Friday. Kepros set that hearing for Nov. 17.

Last week, Jones withdrew his motion to represent himself and told the judge he wanted to go forward with Meyerdirk and Dennis Cohen as his attorneys. Cohen wasn’t at Friday’s hearing.

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