Public Safety

North Liberty man arrested in murder-for-hire scheme

Business owner allegedly tried to hire an undercover officer

Justin DeWitt
Justin DeWitt

NORTH LIBERTY – A North Liberty man agreed to pay $8,000 to have a family of four - including two young children - killed, police said Tuesday.

Justin L. DeWitt, 36, of 110 Whitman Ave., was arrested at 7:15 p.m. Monday on four counts each of attempted murder and solicitation to commit a murder, one count for each of the four family members. Police said DeWitt tried to hire a hitman - actually an undercover officer - to kill a man described as a "business associate" and the man's family. 

North Liberty Police Chief Diana Venenga said police learned of the plot when they got a tip about a man in North Liberty who was looking to take out a business associate.

"They were looking for a hitman," Venenga said.

According to criminal complaints, DeWitt met with the undercover officer in a parking lot in Iowa City on June 27. Police said DeWitt gave the officer $1,000 as a down payment to kill the family of four - two adults and two children, ages 4 and 2.

Venenga said it was "definitely very cold," that DeWitt wanted the children killed.

"It was clarified and that's what he was seeking to have done," she said.

It is unclear why DeWitt wanted his business associate and family killed. Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she could not comment on a potential motive in the case. Venenga described the relationship between DeWitt and his associate as "pretty convoluted."

"We don't have all of the details of their business relationship, but it's pretty involved," she said.

Police met with DeWitt on more than one occasion to see how serious he was about following through with the plot, Venenga said. DeWitt was arrested after signing a contract to pay the rest of the money - $7,000 - by July 15.

Dewitt's bond was set at $600,000 cash during his initial appearance. He was also ordered to not have any contact with his potential victims.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s website lists DeWitt’s address as the home office for Lawn & Landscaping Solutions, Inc. and a biennial report lists DeWitt as the officer for the business.

The North Liberty Police Department, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Division, the Johnson County Drug Task Force and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office are involved in the ongoing investigation.

DeWitt was convicted of fourth-degree criminal mischief in Johnson County in 1998, but otherwise has no criminal record.

Attempt to commit murder is a Class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Solicitation to commit murder is a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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