Attorneys present opening arguments in Justin Marshall murder trial


Justin Marshall sits as attorneys meet with Judge Sean McPartland during his trial at the Johnson County Courthouse on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2012. David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen
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Stories of the alleged victim’s life, a detailed timeline, and a past mistrial highlighted opening arguments Wednesday in Justin Marshall’s first-degree murder trial.

Marshall, 22, is accused of slaying former Broadway Condominiums owner John Versypt in October 2009.

Assistant Johnson County prosecutor Meredith Rich-Chappel focused her opening statements on a methodical timeline of Oct. 8, 2009, the day of the slaying, which she characterized as a “robbery gone wrong.”

Her timeline began around 11 a.m., when Marshall woke up and listened to music on his computer.

The sequence continued through 4:08 p.m., when an apartment resident discovered a wounded Versypt — who was checking on the property — and called 911.

“You will hear [the resident] describe how he watched the man in the gray sweatshirt — John Versypt —  take his last breath,” Rich-Chappel said.

Rich-Chappel said officers quickly arrived and found a drill, picture frame, gun, and an open wallet next to Versypt. Police also saw what appeared to be a bullet wound on his right hand.

The prosecution named potential witnesses who would both corroborate and add to her timeline, including the 40 minutes between the time Marshall left his aunt’s apartment, 3:30 p.m., and the time he returned, 4:14 p.m.

One of those witnesses will be Charles William Curtis Thompson, the 20-year-old originally charged with Versypt’s murder. After Thompson’s September 2011 trial ended in a mistrial, he pleaded guilty to accessory to a felony and signed documents stating he knew Marshall killed Versypt. The mistrial occurred after the prosecution played part of a videotaped interview with Thompson that officials agreed would not be shown to the jury.

Rich-Chappel attempted to discredit Marshall’s story by noting a number of different instances in which he has changed his account.

She concluded her argument by alleging Marshall changed clothes after the shooting. Thompson will testify he saw Marshall taking the clothes he wore before the shooting in a bag to the dumpster outside the complex, Rich-Chappel said.

Thomas Gaul, Marshall’s attorney, focused his opening statements on the  “long, intensive investigation” that originally charged Thompson with murder.

“The state pulls the trigger, and it doesn’t miss, and it doesn’t hit — misfire,” he said, forming his fingers into a shape of a gun. “When the trigger’s pulled, and it’s a misfire, all of a sudden Charles Thompson suddenly remembers things.”

Gaul continued by asserting the state’s case relies on witness like Thompson who had an incentive to testify against Marshall. William Freeman, Carl Louis Johnson Jr., and Antonio Martin, who were all facing federal drug charges, met Marshall in prison and will testify against him.

“They don’t give a rat’s ass about justice; they just care about getting time off their sentence,” he said.

Prosecutors also painted a picture for the 16 jurors by presenting Versypt’s life before the alleged murder.

“John met his wife on a blind date and helped build the house he and his wife lived in,” Rich-Chappel said. “He also kept in mint condition his 50-foot RV, and they picked up a magnet for each state they visited.”

After nearly two full days of jury selection, the prosecution is scheduled to begin presenting evidence today. The trial is scheduled to last two weeks. Marshall faces life in prison if he is convicted.

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