Inmate claims Marshall admitted to killing Versypt


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Earl Freeman’s chains scraped across the floor of the Johnson County Courthouse on Feb. 1.

He shuffled to the stand to testify against once-fellow-inmate Justin Marshall.

Marshall, 22, is on trial, charged in the slaying of former Broadway Condominiums owner John Versypt in October 2009.

Freeman told the jury Marshall confessed to killing Versypt while the two were inmates at the Muscatine County Jail.

“He went to rob him,” said Freeman, who awaits being sentenced on drug charges. “John grabbed the gun, and the gun went off.”

Freeman testified Marshall asked him about how he could get his charge reduced to manslaughter. Marshall allegedly asked Freeman and another inmate to persuade their attorneys of the story. The inmates’ plan was to work a reduced charge for Marshall and a reduced sentence for Freeman.

Thomas Gaul, one of Marshall’s defense attorneys, pressed Freeman numerous times on his impending sentence for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.

Gaul questioned Freeman about the length of his sentence. Freeman said he faced 10 years to life in prison but was sentenced to 20 years. Gaul then questioned Freeman’s motivations for testifying.
“The more you snitch, the better deal you might get,” Gaul said.

Freeman said he had opportunities to gain from other cases, but he felt “it was the right thing to do” to involve himself in Marshall’s situation.

“Ninety percent of the people in prison are snitches, because they are all looking to make a deal to get out early,” he said.

Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness continually asked Freeman to iterate officials did not promise him a reduced sentence for his cooperation in this case.

Gaul focused on a recent letter from the County Attorney’s Office to a federal attorney in Davenport that explained Freeman’s cooperation in the case.

Before Freeman testified in front of the court, 6th District Judge Sean McPartland told attorneys not to ask questions that weren’t posed during a deposition the night before. Freeman had previously invoked his Fifth Amendment right on other questions to avoid self-incrimination.

Gaul originally sought to have the testimony of Freeman and two other jailhouse informants blocked. He claimed the informants pressed Marshall for more information under the guidance of state investigators. But McPartland denied Gaul’s request.

Charles Thompson continued his testimony on Feb. 1 after taking the stand the day before.

Thompson, 20, was originally charged with the murder of Versypt, but an error by prosecutors led to a mistrial. Thompson later accepted a deal in which he would plead guilty to accessory to a felony and sign documents stating Marshall killed Versypt.

Thompson pushed back against testimony from James Brown — a Broadway resident — who said Thompson told him “I need to protect my family” when asked if he was “packing heat.”

Thompson said he had never seen the gun used to kill Versypt and didn’t know its origin.

Thompson also said he never provided information with the goal of getting a plea deal after his mistrial.

McPartland said the state should be done with its case by noon today, which would allow the defense until Tuesday afternoon to present its case. Marshall faces life in prison if he is convicted of the charges.

Reporter Lauren Coffey contributed to this story.

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