CEDAR RAPIDS — A third defendant pleaded not guilty Tuesday in the 2014 robbery and fatal shooting of a 51-year-old Marion man — a case federal prosecutors say is eligible for the death penalty but that will be up to the U.S. Attorney General’s office.
Prosecutors, at arraignments last month for two defendants, Danielle Busch and William L. Yancey, said they are waiting to see if the U.S. Justice Department decides to pursue the death penalty if the defendants are found guilty.
Matthew Robbins, 46, of Ely, Busch, 29, and Yancey, 43, both of Cedar Rapids, are charged with robbery affecting interstate commerce, conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce and using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder, according to an indictment.
Marion police in 2015 considered James Booher, who went missing May 31, 2014, a homicide victim but no charges were filed in his death until last month.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Morfitt last month declined to comment when asked if Booher’s body had been found.
Robbins and Yancey are in prison serving time for drug and firearm convictions. Robbins had been linked to Booher’s disappearance but was previously only charged with firearms and drugs offenses.
All three defendants are accused of robbing Booher of methamphetamine and money by force on May 31, 2014, according to the indictment. They also are accused of having a firearm during the robbery and fatally shooting Booher.
The firearms charge is a “death constituting murder” charge under federal law.
U.S. Magistrate Mark Roberts last week designated this case as “complex,” which expands the deadline for pretrial motions, discovery and gives more time for both sides to prepare for trial. The prosecution advised the court of the “voluminous” evidence in this case, including scientific and forensic evidence, according to Roberts’ order.
“I find the case is so unusual and complex, that due to the number of defendants, the nature of prosecution and the existence of novel questions of fact or law, that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or for the trial itself with the time limits established by the speedy trial act,” Roberts said in the order.
Typically, a trial has to start within 70 days of arraignment, according to federal law, but since this has been deemed a complex case, Roberts set Feb. 24 as a trial date for Busch and Yancey.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy asked the court to try Robbins with the two others.
Mike Lahammer, Robbins’ lawyer, said he hasn’t had a chance to discuss this with his client and wasn’t waiving his client’s right to a speedy trial at this point. Roberts set Robbins’ trial for July 15.
If convicted, all three face a mandatory minimum of 10 years, up to life, in prison.
Evidence from Robbins’ first trial, which ended in a hung jury, showed Robbins knew Booher and had bought meth from him.
Robbins and another man are accused of robbing Booher on June 1, 2014 — the day after police say Booher was last seen alive, according to court documents in the firearms case. Robbins and a friend identified as Danielle Busch bought meth from Booher on May 31, 2014.
Robbins and Busch used the meth and later contacted Booher to set up time to buy a larger quantity, according to court documents. Booher went to Robbins’ home later that night and wasn’t seen after that visit, according to court documents.
A person looking for Booher testified he went to Robbins’ home, and Robbins answered the door holding a .45 caliber handgun.
Booher was reported missing by his sister June 3, and his truck was found abandoned June 9.
In May 2015, during the investigation into Robbins, a forensics team that specializes in identifying human remains set up a dig site at a rural Ely farmhouse where Robbins once lived to search for evidence in Booher’s death.
Court documents showed Robbins later moved out of the farmhouse on Nederhiser Road and, before doing so, removed carpet, furnishings and fixtures — which he burned behind the house.
No human remains were found, but federal agents did recover a .45-caliber shell casing in the burn pile, according to court documents.
Robbins, who pleaded guilty in 2016 to being a felon and unlawful drug user in possession of a firearm, is serving 10 years in prison.
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