Experts: Appeal from Iowa City landlord shooting convict not a surprise

BY CASSIDY RILEY | MAY 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite Justin Marshall’s appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness said she is confident his first-degree-murder conviction will be upheld.

Marshall, 22, was convicted on Feb. 7 in the 2009 slaying of John Versypt, the former landlord of Broadway Condominiums. Marshall was sentenced to life in prison on April 26, and he filed for an appeal on May 9.

“I would have been shocked if he hadn’t appealed,” Lyness said. “[He doesn’t] have anything to lose by appealing.”

Robert Rigg, a professor of law at Drake University, said anyone convicted of a crime has a right to an appeal.

“Appeals for murder convictions are not only frequent, it’s almost a given,” he said. “You’re going to appeal, and you’re going to raise as many issues as you possibly can.”

Rigg said that while the vast majority of appeal cases do not result in the verdict being overturned, he would consider it almost negligent for an attorney to not advise a defendant to appeal.

“The fact that you don’t get a reversal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appeal,” he said. “You don’t know the answer to the question until you ask it.”

At the time of the slaying, Marshall was living with his aunt, two cousins, and his cousin’s boyfriend, Charles Thompson. Thompson was the original suspect in the case, but his trial ended in a mistrial because of a mistake made by the prosecution. He later pleaded guilty to accessory to a felony and signed a document stating that he knew Marshall had killed Versypt.

On Oct. 3, 2011, the third suspect in this case was charged with first-degree murder. Courtney White was allegedly seen running from the scene where Versypt’s body was found, according to a police complaint.

White pleaded guilty to tampering with a witness on April 26 and was credited the time he had already served.

Jerry Foxhoven, a professor of law at Drake University, said appeals to the Iowa Supreme Court go through a screening process, and the court will decide whether to review the case or give it to the Iowa Court of Appeals. He said the next step for Marshall’s appeal would now be collecting the transcripts of what happened at his trial.

“They look at the testimony and the exhibits that came into the [original trial],” he said. “This is not a place to bring any new witnesses or new exhibits. They just look at the record as it was.”

Foxhoven said the purpose of an appeal only involves looking for a possible error in the trial that occurred and that the entire process of an appeal can take quite a while.

“Anytime there’s an appeal, that’s hard for the victim or victim’s family because they have to wait longer for it to be done,” Lyness said.

Versypt’s widow, Janet Versypt, was visibly relieved after Marshall’s sentencing for the trial to be over. At the time of the sentencing, she was unaware Marshall planned to appeal.

“Going through these judicial trials and postponement[s] have left us mentally exhausted,” she said in a statement to the court on April 26. “One day, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and then something happens to prolong the whole mess.”

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