Public Safety

North Liberty man sentenced to 35 years in murder-for-hire scheme

Justin DeWitt smiles at supporters sitting in the front row of the courtroom during his sentence hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City, Iowa, on  Thursday, July 26, 2018. DeWitt pleaded guilty in May to two counts of attempted murder and two counts of solicitation to commit murder in a murder-for-hire of a business associate, his wife and their two children. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Justin DeWitt smiles at supporters sitting in the front row of the courtroom during his sentence hearing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, July 26, 2018. DeWitt pleaded guilty in May to two counts of attempted murder and two counts of solicitation to commit murder in a murder-for-hire of a business associate, his wife and their two children. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A North Liberty man who plotted to kill a former business associate and his family, including two young children, was sentenced Thursday in Johnson County District Court to 35 years in prison.

6th Judicial District Judge Paul Miller sentenced Justin L. DeWitt, 38, for a conviction of two counts of attempted murder and two counts of solicitation to commit murder.

In accordance with a plea agreement, Miller ran the sentences on the two attempted murder charges concurrently and the two solicitation charges concurrently.

Taken together, the sentences total 35 years, and DeWitt must serve 70 percent of the sentence before being eligible for parole.

Also, he still faces additional murder-for- hire charges in Muscatine County.

DeWitt, a former landscaper, declined to speak during the sentencing but kept turning around looking at his family, smiling and quietly laughing as Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness made her sentencing recommendation and while his attorney, Mike Lahammer, asked the judge to follow the plea agreement.

The Plot

DeWitt, during the May plea hearing, admitted to hiring a person he thought was a hit man — but actually was an undercover officer — on June 27, 2016. It was at that hearing he told the judge Williams had “cost me an $80,000 contract.”

DeWitt gave the undercover officer a $1,000 down payment and signed a contract to have business associate Chad Williams, his wife, Angela, and their children killed for $8,000, authorities said.

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A sting was set up after police received a tip from Ronald Robi, an ex-convict who had hired DeWitt as a landscaper, court documents show.

Robi told The Gazette last year that when DeWitt learned about Robi’s criminal past, he asked him if he had ever killed anyone or knew anyone who would kill someone for him.

Robi said he recorded the conversation and turned it over to police.

Lyness read a victim’s impact statement from the Williams’ family during the hearing because they chose not to be in court.

Family’s Statement

Chad Williams, in the statement, said he still lives in fear for his wife and children, especially when DeWitt is someday released. 

Williams said his family lives in a “heightened fear,” and that he and his wife are scared to leave their children outside.

He said DeWitt still poses a danger and is obviously capable of committing crimes while in jail — referring to DeWitt’s Muscatine County charges.  

Lahammer pointed out during sentencing that even though DeWitt had been found competent to stand trial, he still has mental health issues.

He also noted that DeWitt’s mother wrote a letter to the judge, which was sealed by the court, explaining she had asked police for their help or to intervene at some point because she knew her son had issues.

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On Thursday, Judge Miller said it was “incomprehensible” that a person would arrange for the death of two young children over a business dispute.

He also said he had “serious concerns” that DeWitt had no remorse for his crimes and said he hoped a long prison sentence will give him time to reflect on what he did and, hopefully, he will not pose a threat once released.

Muscatine County

DeWitt’s charges in Muscatine County are for a similar murder-for-hire scheme.

In that case, DeWitt — while in the Muscatine County Jail inmate awaiting trial — is accused of plotting to have an Iowa Department of Public Safety agent and a North Liberty couple killed in December 2016.

He is charged with three counts of attempt to commit murder.

That trial is set for Dec. 10 in Muscatine County District Court. DeWitt, if convicted, faces 25 years in prison on each of these charges.

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

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