CEDAR RAPIDS — With a new court filing this week, both men accused of attempted murder by shooting guns at each other outside a downtown bar earlier this year are claiming self-defense — and asking that the charges against them be dismissed under Iowa’s stand-your-ground law.
Zevon Johnson, 21, of Urbandale, said in a motion filed Monday that he fired his gun at Michael Hodges Jr., 23, of Cedar Rapids, on Jan. 28 outside Pub 217, 217 Third St. SE, because Hodges was shooting at him. Johnson asserted in the motion he was attempting to defend himself and others from Hodges.
Johnson fired his gun without hitting Hodges. But Hodges fired and struck Johnson in the chest, according to court documents.
Johnson argued he was justified in using deadly force to defend himself against Hodges, who was committing a forcible felony against him — which, he said in the motion, should entitle him to immunity from criminal liability.
Johnson is charged in Linn County District Court with attempted murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, going armed with intent and carrying weapons.
According to the criminal complaints against Johnson and Hodges, a security video shows both men simultaneously raising their guns and firing while just a few feet away from the other.
Hodges is charged with attempted murder, willful injury and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. He, too, earlier filed for immunity from criminal liability under the 2017 stand your ground provision.
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Police officers questioned both men, who admitted firing at the other, according to the criminal complaint.
Johnson said when he was interviewed by police at the hospital he told them he fired in self-defense and allowed officers to take his weapon, according to his motion.
Hodges, on the other hand, argued that Johnson and other members of the “My Brother’s Keeper” gang “confronted” him outside the bar, according to court documents. Hodges said he drew his gun in response to Johnson drawing his.
Both men have asked the court for a pretrial evidentiary hearing to determine immunity by a preponderance of the evidence — meaning each man will have to prove that it is more likely than not that the degree of force used was justified.
Senior Judge Nancy Baumgartner granted a hearing in Johnson’s case to hear arguments on his motion to dismiss.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner ruled last month to set a hearing for Hodges.
But both sides in that case conceded the law establishes no procedure for determining immunity, and the language in the Iowa law doesn’t say a defendant would be immune from “criminal prosecution” but instead criminal or civil liability.
Turner, however, concluded the intent of the law is to prevent people from being prosecuted or having to go to trial if the force was justified. The unclear Iowa law, which doesn’t include the same language as similar laws in other states, leaves it to the discretion of a judge how to proceed.
Hodges’ hearing is set for June 27 and Johnson’s will be July 9.
In two previous tests of the law, one judge didn’t question the language of the law, made a ruling before trial and freed a man. The other had many questions but ruled the case would go to trial and he would decide immunity later if necessary. He then ruled the law was void because of its vagueness.
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Iowa is one of at least 24 states with stand-your-ground laws that allow people to use reasonable force — including deadly force — against another to defend themselves and others against perceived threats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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