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Jury Enters Deliberations in VanHemert Murder Trial

By Jason Van Arkel, April 15, 2019

The fate of Luke VanHemert is now in the hands of the jury.

VanHemert faces a charge of second degree murder in the March 1, 2018 stabbing death of former William Penn basketball player Marquis Todd. The 24-year-old claims he acted in self-defense. Both the prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments Monday morning.

Lead prosecutor Andy Prosser argued that VanHemert started and escalated the violence at every step of the events of that night, from the car accident to the smashing of Mikeal Donaldson’s windshield, and to the fight in the VanHemert front yard that claimed Todd’s life. The state must prove that VanHemert acted with “malice aforethought” to prove second degree murder, and Prosser claimed VanHemert’s actions show he was preparing himself to attack and injure the people he had been in confrontation with that night.

Prosser also attacked VanHemert’s account of the fight as unbelievable, saying that his father Stanley’s testimony about the fight being over “as soon as it started” showed Luke VanHemert must have started the fight by attacking Todd with a knife, after Todd had followed Stanley VanHemert towards the front door. Prosser proposed that VanHemert had charged Todd out of the shadows, knife in hand, and stabbed him three times.

VanHemert’s lead attorney, Alan Cook, disputed the prosecution’s theory in his closing arguments. He pointed out that there was no testimony or evidence showing VanHemert had started the fight by attacking with the knife. Cook also continued to use the testimony of Donaldson and D’Angelo Allen, Todd’s teammates, as proof that the fight happened as VanHemert claims. Cook said both players testified that they checked on Todd during the fight, and that he was “handling his own.” Both players also said in depositions that they saw Todd getting up off of VanHemert.

Cook also questioned the state’s claim that the fight only lasted a few seconds, pointing out that it lasted long enough for both Donaldson and Allen to fight VanHemert’s friend Eli Marcus. Testimony from all three of those men indicated that Donaldson began fighting with Marcus, Marcus tried to run down the driveway, and Allen caught up with him to continue the fight.

One other primary point of contention is whether or not the car accident, smashing of Donaldson’s windshield, and fight in the front yard are three separate incidents or one continuous confrontation. The state argued that VanHemert’s and Marcus’ aggressive behavior after the accident and their smashing of Donaldson’s windshield helped provoke the eventual fight, meaning VanHemert would not be justified in using deadly force. The defense argued that Donaldson leaving the scene after the smashed windshield to pick up Todd and Allen, then coming back to the scene, escalated the incident, while VanHemert stayed at home. Cook also said that when Todd followed Stanley VanHemert to his front door, shouting at him, it created a situation where Luke VanHemert feared for his father’s safety, and that VanHemert only pulled out the knife because Todd had him pinned down and was punching him.

Judge Lucy Gamon instructed the jury that they may consider the second degree murder charge, in which the state needed to prove VanHemert acted with “malice aforethought.” The jury may also consider lesser charges that are considered to be rolled into second degree murder. They could also find VanHemert guilty of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or assault causing serious injury. The jury was also instructed that, in order to find VanHemert guilty on any of the charges, the state must have proved that VanHemert was not justified in his actions.

The jury went into deliberations shortly after noon, in Mahaska County Court. VanHemert faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted of second degree murder.

 

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