Public Safety

Prosecutor dismisses attempted murder charges in downtown Cedar Rapids shooting

Prosecutor: Michael Hodges Jr. was 'justified in drawing his weapon'

(FILE PHOTO) Michael Hodges, Jr. takes the stand for questioning at a hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rap
(FILE PHOTO) Michael Hodges, Jr. takes the stand for questioning at a hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Hodges, Jr. was charged with the attempted murder of Zevon Johnson after he shot Johnson in the chest during an altercation between the two men. Before the latest development, both men had been claiming immunity under Iowa’s new stand-your-ground law. (Rebecca Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man who sought immunity under Iowa’s stand-your-ground law after authorities say he shot and wounded another man won’t go to trial — not thanks to the controversial law, but because the Linn County Attorney’s Office asked the court Wednesday to dismiss the charges.

“After a thorough review of the evidence, especially the video, I believe Michael Hodges Jr. was justified in drawing his weapon and shooting,” said Assistant County Attorney Monica Slaughter, who took over the case this week.

Surveillance video from downtown cameras, which captured the January shooting outside a bar, shows the other man — Zevon Johnson of Urbandale — was the “primary aggressor,” she found. Hodges drew his gun, which he had a permit to carry, in response, she concluded.

The finding contradicts a criminal complaint, another county prosecutor’s arguments in an earlier hearing and a few statements from 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady, who had denied Hodges’ immunity.

Both Hodges, 23, and Johnson, 21, each were charged initially with attempted murder and other counts. Each said he fired in self-defense and asserted immunity under the 2017 law.

The criminal complaint states each man drew a handgun simultaneously on the other Jan. 28 outside Pub 217, 217 Third St. NE. Johnson fired without hitting Hodges. But Hodges hit Johnson in the chest.

Johnson decided earlier this month to take a plea deal and gave up his request for immunity. He made a written guilty plea of carrying weapons, an aggravated misdemeanor. He admitted to carrying a firearm that day within the city limits without a permit. He faces a $625 fine and up to two years in jail.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Rena Schulte dismissed the other charges against Johnson.

Slaughter, who was promoted to the felony division last week, said she wasn’t involved in Johnson’s case or plea. But after watching the video many times and slowing it down over and over again, she became convinced Johnson was the first to raise his gun. It would be difficult to see if she hadn’t replayed it many times, she added.

Slaughter said she couldn’t release the video to the public because it was evidence in Johnson’s case. He hasn’t been sentenced yet.

In the video, Slaughter said, Johnson is behind another, larger man but steps out and to the side of that man, Slaughter said. She said Johnson then immediately pulls out a gun from his pants or pocket, points it at Hodges and fires.

Hodges, during the immunity hearing, said he didn’t think Johnson pointed a gun at him before he fired. But Hodges testified just seeing Johnson holding the gun, and addressing him, was threatening.

Slaughter said she couldn’t explain Hodges’ statements, except that it all happened in a “split second.”

“The evidence wasn’t strong enough to prove the charges,” she said. “I think anybody in the same circumstances would have felt threatened and defended themselves.”

In his ruling this week denying immunity, Chief Judge Grady said there is a lack of clear pretrial procedure for determining immunity. He said he considered the “minutes of testimony and other undisputed facts” while making his decision.

Grady said what is undisputed is that Hodges and Johnson used deadly force. Because both fired almost simultaneously, he ruled, Hodges isn’t entitled to the presumption that his actions were justified. The ruling wouldn’t have prevented Hodges from claiming justification as a defense, but that must be claimed at trial, the judge added.

Slaughter said that Grady’s ruling concerned only the immunity issue under the stand-your-ground law — not the strength of the case.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns officially dismissed the charges Wednesday.

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