IOWA CITY — While being held in the Muscatine County Jail in 2011, Justin Marshall confessed to the 2009 killing of landlord John Versypt in Iowa City, according to a fellow inmate.
Earl Freeman, who was being held with Marshall in Muscatine on federal drug charges, told jurors Friday that Marshall came to him for legal advice and ended up sharing details about the killing.
“(Marshall) said he went to rob him, (Versypt) grabbed the gun, the gun went off, shot him in the hand, shot him in the head, and he fell to the ground,” Freeman testified Friday.
According to Freeman’s testimony, Marshall told him that he had seen Versypt, of Cordova, Ill., at the complex earlier that day. Even though he called it an attempted robbery, he said he didn’t end up taking anything from Versypt’s wallet, according to Freeman.
At the time of their discussion in 2011, Marshall’s co-defendant Charles Thompson was on trial for first-degree murder in the case. Freeman said Marshall told him, “They have an innocent man on trial for it now,” according to his testimony Friday.
Freeman said Marshall came to him because he was interested in getting a new attorney to represent him, but he wanted to see if he could get his first-degree murder charge downgraded to manslaughter. Marshall asked Freeman and another inmate to tell their attorneys that he had confessed to the crime, but that it was an accident, according to Freeman’s testimony.
Freeman said Marshall wrote down his story on a yellow notepad, and Freeman later provided that information to Iowa City investigators. When pressed by defense attorneys, Freeman said he was hoping at first that his cooperation with police would get him a sentence reduction in his case.
But, Freeman said, he also did it “because it was the right thing to do” and because he wanted to help the Versypt family.
Freeman, who is serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison, testified that his cooperation police so far has not helped him in any way. But defense attorney Thomas Gaul showed Freeman a letter the Johnson County Attorney’s Office sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office recommending he receive a reduction for his good time.
Freeman said he was not aware of that letter, and he no longer had expectations that his cooperation was going to do him any good. In fact, Freeman and his attorney fought the subpoena that forced him to testify.
Earlier in the day, Thompson took the witness stand and testified about his whereabouts on Oct. 8, 2009, when Versypt was shot at the Broadway Condominium complex in Iowa City. He said he had returned to his apartment at least an hour before the shooting and was playing video games in the bedroom with his pregnant girlfriend when he heard a thump.
A few minutes later, Thompson testified, Marshall came in the apartment and then the bedroom acting frantic and reporting that someone had died in the hallway. Thompson’s girlfriend also testified Friday, corroborating the story Thompson provided regarding his whereabouts at the time of the shooting.
Thompson, 20, was the first person to be arrested in the case in February 2010, followed by Marshall, 22, in July 2011 and Courtney White, 25, in October 2011.
All three men originally were charged with first-degree murder. But Thompson’s trial, the first of the three, ended in a mistrial when prosecutors inadvertently presented evidence that was inadmissible.
Following the trial, Thompson agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his promise to testify against Marshall.
Witness testimony is expected to resume on Monday.