In February of 2013, Justin A. Marshall was found guilty of first-degree murder after he allegedly shot John Versypt, a landlord at the Broadway Condominium Complex in southeastern Iowa City, during an attempted robbery. Police claim that Marshall shot Versypt in the head and hand as he attempted to rob the landlord. On Wednesday June 11, the Iowa Court of Appeals overturned the first-degree murder conviction, finding in their opinion that Marshall should have been allowed to prevent the jury from hearing the testimony of a jail informant who was working for prosecutors in the case.
Prosecutors said at trial that Marshall admitted to three Muscaline County Jail inmates that he had shot the landlord in a robbery gone wrong. Prosecutors also said there were other witnesses who confirmed facts the defendant had admitted to while incarcerated.
Carl Johnson, one of the witnesses, was in jail in 2011 on federal drug charges when Marshall was brought to Iowa from Texas to stand trial for the landlord’s death. According to a news report at The Gazette, the appeals court’s opinion states that in exchange for the possibility of a lighter prison sentence, Johnson signed a deal with federal prosecutors to provide information on other suspects. Johnson was asked by Iowa City police to provide information regarding Justin Marshall and two other individuals. When outside his jail cell, he had conversations with Marshall in which the defendant allegedly told him his intention was to rob Versypt, but that the robbery went wrong and the landlord got shot.
Marshall and his attorney appealed the guilty verdict, claiming the informants were effectively acting as agents of the state, and therefore Marshall should have had legal counsel during conversations with the informants. The appeals court agreed, with Judge Thomas Bower writing in the opinion that “These circumstances resulted in the functional equivalent of an interrogation by law enforcement.” Bower went on to say that because of his lack of confidence that Marshall received a fair trial, he concurred in reversing the conviction.
While prosecutors may retry Marshall on the murder charges, a decision has not yet been made. Prosecutors may decide to pursue different charges given the appeals court has rendered critical evidence in the case inadmissible in court.
Michigan criminal appeals attorneys know it is a rare occasion on which an appeals court overturns a first-degree murder conviction. In this case, it is apparent the appeal’s court judges did not feel the defendant received a fair trial.
Every individual who is charged with a crime, regardless of what that crime is, has a right to a fair trial. If you have been convicted of any crime and feel that justice was not served, you were not given a fair trial, or that mistakes were made which may have impacted the outcome, consult with a capable and experienced Michigan criminal appeals lawyer. The appeals process is complex, and rarely do most courts overturn a conviction. However, you have dramatically improved chances of winning by choosing a lawyer who is skilled and knowledgeable in the process.