A jury Wednesday found Lamar Wilson guilty of voluntary manslaughter in a fatal shooting in downtown Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall last summer. Wilson was accused of killing one man and injuring two others shortly before bar close on Aug. 27, 2017.
Prosecutors originally charged Wilson with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. The lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter means the jury found Wilson intentionally shot the man who died, but he did so because of “sudden, violent and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation.”
The Polk County jury also found Wilson guilty of two counts of assault with intent to inflict serious injury and one count of intimidation with a dangerous weapon.
This was also Iowa’s first trial including a “stand your ground” self-defense claim since the new law went into effect last July 1.
In a pre-trial motion last fall, Wilson claimed he fired his gun because he feared for his life. Prosecutors characterized the incident as a dispute between rival groups from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.
Wilson’s lawyers said the state’s new “stand your ground” law gives the defendant immunity from prosecution.
The new provision says an individual who feels threatened has no duty to retreat before using deadly force for self-defense. A person with a licensed gun can use deadly force if they believe they’re facing imminent death or serious injury—even if there’s a safe way to escape the situation. And a homicide can be found justified in cases when the shooter turns out to be wrong about the level of threat.
The law did not specify a legal procedure for using the new law, which is why this case will have a bearing on how “stand your ground” claims in Iowa are handled in the future.
Before the trial, prosecutors moved to exclude the phrase “stand your ground” from trial, instead opting for references to “justification” and “self-defense.” That’s because the phrase “stand your ground” doesn’t appear in Iowa law.
The jury sent two questions to the judge during deliberations, asking what the rule for “stand your ground” is and whether it applies to this case.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Paul Miller says he will hold a hearing in Johnson County at a later date and will then rule on Wilson’s immunity claim under the “stand your ground” law. His ruling will rest on a lower burden of proof than the jury’s decision.
Defense attorney John Bruzek said he was disappointed with the verdict.
“We think the law and the facts were in Mr. Wilson’s favor,” Bruzek says. “And we’ll file our motions and hopefully the judge will hold the hearing on immunity and resolve this the way it should’ve been resolved in the beginning.”
Bruzek says any appeals will have to wait until after the judge’s final ruling.