Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2013, 7:21 pm

Judge: New information won't prompt mistrial in Versypt murder

Comment on this story

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

Photo: Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG
Justin Marshall (left) talks with defense attorney Thomas Gaul during Marshall's trial for first-degree murder on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, at the Johnson County District Courthouse in Iowa City. Marshall is charged with first-degree homicide in the October 2009 shooting death of John Versypt.
Two of the prosecution's key witnesses in its first-degree murder case against Justin Marshall apparently came forward with new information during the weekend, prompting a delay in the proceedings.

According to police, John Versypt, of Cordova -- a landlord for units in the Broadway Condominium complex in south Iowa City -- was checking on his properties when he was shot in the head during an attempted robbery on Oct. 8, 2009.

The 16 jurors hearing the case against Mr. Marshall were sent home about 10 a.m. Monday without explanation. Johnson County Judge Sean McPartland said only that "matters" arose requiring a full day's work.

On Tuesday morning, JudgeMcPartland explained the delay was prompted by new information about a "conversation overheard" by James Brown and Rhonda Bluitt who lived next to the apartment where Mr. Marshall was staying with his co-defendant, Charles Thompson, at the time of the shooting.

"The issues that we're addressing this morning arise as a result of the matters addressed in (Johnson County Attorney Janet) Lyness' email on Sunday evening," the judge said. He said Mr.Marshall and his defense team wanted to take depositions from Ms. Bluitt, Mr. Brown and Mr. Thompson based on the new information. That is what attorneys spent Monday doing, the judge said.

"Following the depositions late yesterday, the state indicated that it wished to proceed with the testimony of Ms. Bluitt and Mr. Brown and also to elicit the testimony about the conversation they allegedly overheard," Judge McPartland said.

Defense attorney Thomas Gaul argued the statements should not be allowed at trial because his defense theory is the only people willing to testify against Mr. Marshall are those with something to gain.

"The only people who are saying that Mr. Marshall incriminated himself are people who have a reason to fabricate, namely prisoners who are looking for a better plea deal and time off their sentence," Mr. Gaul said.

He reminded the judge he included that theory in his opening statements last week. But, he said, Mr. Brown and Ms. Bluitt have no reason to lie.

"It looks to the jury as if I was trying to deceive them in my voir dire and in openings and in our whole theory," Mr. Gaul said. "I believe this will cause the jury to discredit anything we do from now on."

Still, Judge McPartland ruled to allow prosecutors to question Mr. Brown and Ms. Bluitt about the new information because the state did not intentionally withhold it. The judge said the defense was given a chance to investigate the information, which he said "clearly would be relevant, probative and admissible in connection with the issues here."

He also said defense attorneys can question the information on cross-examination, bringing up details about its late disclosure and the "conflicting testimony by Mr. Thompson, which is expected also to be elicited by the state."

On Tuesday, Mr. Brown testified he heard a loud "pop" in the hallway at the time of the shooting and then heard Mr. Marshall in the hallway asking to be let into the neighboring apartment.

Testimony is expected to wrap up on Thursday.

Mr. Thompson, 20, was the first to be arrested, followed by Mr. Marshall, 22, and then Courtney White, 25. Originally, all were charged with first-degree murder. But Mr. Thompson's trial, the first of the three, ended in a mistrial when prosecutors inadvertently presented evidence that was inadmissible.

After the trial, Mr. Thompson agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his promise to testify against Mr. Marshall. He has not yet taken the stand and remains in custody until he does.