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TRIAL DAY 2: Sweet trial in limbo after mistrial motion

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Posted: Friday, October 18, 2013 9:19 am | Updated: 6:52 pm, Fri Oct 18, 2013.

UPDATE

A witness’ mention of child pornography put the double-murder trial for a Manchester, Iowa, teen in limbo Friday.

The mention prompted a defense motion for a mistrial — a motion the judge in the case said he will rule on Monday morning.

The uncertainty came at the tail end of a full day of testimony in the trial of Isaiah R. Sweet in Dubuque. Sweet, 18, is accused of killing his custodial grandparents Janet and Richard Sweet in May 2012. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and operating without consent, a charge linked to his alleged theft of his grandfather’s truck after the killing.

Ward Crowley, an agent with the state Division of Criminal Investigations, was the last of the prosecution witnesses to take the stand Friday and prompted the mistrial motion.

Crowley, who specializes in computer forensics, examined a computer from the Sweet home for evidence. He told the jury that he found Internet searches about various methods to kill people.

Then, he said his search also turned up six images he believed to be child pornography.

Judge Michael Shubatt told the jury to disregard the child porn mention before dismissing them for the weekend. But Isaiah Sweet’s defense lawyers weren’t satisfied.

“We can’t un-ring the bell,” defense attorney Jill Eimermann said to Shubatt after the jury left.

She said the jury will hold an unfair prejudice against Isaiah Sweet, even though it can’t be determined who was using the computer when those images were accessed. She noted that both teams of lawyers agreed the alleged child porn should not come up during trial because it was not relevant.

Prosecutor Denise Timmins agreed, saying she instructed Crowley not to bring it up during testimony.

But she asked Shubatt to overrule the motion for mistrial, saying Crowley’s mention was just a small part of the information presented in the trial. She pointed out that Crowley works mainly with the state Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and he probably just slipped up in his testimony.

Earlier in the day, the jury saw a firsthand tutorial of how the weapon allegedly used in the killings, a semiautomatic assault rifle, was loaded and fired. DCI agent Vic Murillo, who specializes in firearms, loaded the rifle with dummy ammo to show how it works.

“It will reload itself after each trigger pull,” he said.

He identified the rifle as the weapon used in the killings by comparing the marks on the bullet casings. He said spent casings have “fingerprint-like” marks from the specific firearm used.

The jury also saw numerous graphic photographs of the victims at the crime scene as well as during their autopsies. Some images caused a few jurors to avert their eyes.

Amanda Kilgore, a criminalist with the DCI, said the shooter was standing just inside of the front door of the home Isaiah Sweet shared with his grandparent. Two spent bullet casings bounced down the nearby basement stairs. Another bullet casing was found behind a living room couch, near the body of Janet Sweet.

Autopsies confirmed that there were two bullet wounds to the head of Janet Sweet and one to Richard Sweet.

“The cause of death was homicide,” said Dr. Jonathan Thompson, who performed the autopsies.

During cross-examination, the defense asked if anything was found in the blood of Richard Sweet. Thompson said his blood had traces of the antianxiety drug lorazepam, the narcotic painkiller hydrocodone and alcohol.

When Manchester Police Sgt. James Hauschild took the stand, he testified that he had been dispatched to the Sweet house many times before Richard and Janet Sweet were found dead. The defense asked Hauschild if Richard Sweet had any alcohol in his system during those calls.

“Most of the time, yes,” he replied.

Hauschild said most of the calls to the Sweet home were made by either Richard or Janet Sweet, with them reporting that Isaiah Sweet showing aggressive behavior. He said the Sweets asked him about mental health commitment for their grandson.

After Isaiah Sweet was located and arrested on May 14, 2012, DCI Agent Mike McVey said he and another agent transported Sweet back to Manchester. He said Sweet waved to other cars during the drive and remarked that he needed a haircut and that he might need dental work for a toothache.

“He seemed carefree,” McVey said.

Trial proceedings will start again at 9 a.m. Monday, when Shubatt is expected to announce his ruling on the mistrial motion.

UPDATE

The murder trial against a Manchester teen might not make it far into its third day of testimony Monday, as the judge will decide on a motion for a mistrial made today.

Judge Michael Shubatt said he will decide Monday morning on the motion, made by the defense team for Isaiah R. Sweet, 18. Sweet is accused of killing his custodial grandparents Janet and Richard Sweet in May 2012.

The issue came from testimony today in Dubuque Circuit Court by the state’s witness Ward Crowley, an agent with the state Division of Criminal Investigation. Crowley, who specializes in computer forensics, examined a computer from the Sweet home for evidence in the Sweet killings. He told the jury he found Internet searches about various methods to kill people, but he also said his search turned up six images he believed to be child pornography.

Shubatt immediately told the jury to disregard that statement from Crowley’s testimony before dismissing them for the weekend. But the defense wasn’t satisfied.

“We can’t un-ring the bell,” defense attorney Jill Eimermann said to Shubatt after the jury was dismissed. She said both sides agreed this fact should not come up during trial because it was not relevant.

Prosecutor Denise Timmins agreed, saying she instructed Crowley not to bring it up during testimony. She asked Shubatt to overrule the motion for mistrial, as the statement was just a small part of the larger trial information.

UPDATE

The defense has moved for a mistrial after DCI Agent Ward Crowley stated the finding of child porn on the Sweets' computer.

The defense said "We can't un-ring the bell." They said the assumption is that those image searches would be unfairly be attributed to Isaiah Sweet.

Timmins agreed that fact was stricken from the record and Crowley was instructed not to bring it up.

Judge Michael Shubatt said he will decide on the mistrial motion Monday. He had already dismissed the jury until 9 a.m. Monday, and said the case should still be ready for their deliberation on Tuesday.

UPDATE

Another DCI agent, Ward Crowley, comes to the stand. He specializes in computer forensics. He looked at the Sweet family computer.

Crowley said he found several searches about how to kill someone on the Sweets' computer. He also found six images he thought were child porn.

The defense asks Crowley if Internet searches were determined to a specific user. Crowley said no. Judge Micheal Shubatt strikes Crowley's statements about child porn. He told the jury that that information cannot be taken into consideration.

UPDATE

The state has called Agent Mike McVey of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to testify.

McVey was assigned to help search for Isaiah Sweet on May 13, 2012. They followed leads from other agencies and cellphone information. He encountered Sweet in Cedar Rapids as Sweet crossed a street.

McVey said he tried talking to Sweet but he fled. McVey set up a perimeter to find him. A canine officer tracked Sweet down and he was taken into custody the night of May 14, 2012. McVey transported him back to Manchester.

McVey said Sweet was "carefree" on the ride back to Manchester. He appeared to wave at passing cars.

UPDATE

Dr. Jonathan Thompson, associate state medical examiner, is the next witness to take the stand. He performed the autopsies on the Sweets on May 14, 2012.

He specializes in forensic pathology, unnatural causes of death, including homicide and suicide.

Thompson said it's hard to tell if death for Sweets was instantaneous. He said the heart can keep pumping even with a major head injury.

Thompson said Janet Sweet was shot in the left cheek and right side of her forehead.

The defense asked Thompson for blood test results for Richard Sweet. Thompson said lorazepam, hydrocodone and alcohol were present in his system.

UPDATE

The state has called Vic Murillo of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation's crime lab to the stand.

Murillo is a criminalist that specializes in studying firearms and comparing bullets and casings. He examined the bullets and casings for the Sweet killing in June 2012. He said the gun was a semiautomatic and reloads itself each time the shooter pulls the trigger.

Murillo said the DCI lab looks at fired cartridge cases to pinpoint it to a specific firearm. A specific mark is left by the firing pin when the firearm is fired, and marks are also left by the ejection. He said they are "fingerprint-like markings."

Murillo told the jury spent casings have marks specific to the gun that fired them. He matched the cartridges to the rifle Sweet had.

UPDATE

Prosecutor Denise Timmins resumed her questioning of Amanda Kilgore, investigator with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. She said Richard Sweet was shot once in the head, Janet Sweet, twice in the head.

Kilgore showed photos from inside the Sweets' house, where blood spots, tissue, skull fragments and hair were found in the front entryway. Kilgore said there was similar evidence throughout the living room.

Kilgore said a shell casing was found on the stairway near the front door. She said the shooter was standing near the entrance. Another shell casing and unfired bullet were found in the basement, where an open box of ammunition was also found.

Kilgore said the ammunition in the basement matched the rounds used to shoot the Sweets. One casing ejected during the shooting hit a picture frame on the stairwell wall and knocked it into a potted plant.

UPDATE

A member of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab will retake the stand after the lunch break and discuss photos taken of the crime scene.

There was a substantial break in testimony late this morning as Judge Michael Shubatt weighed which photos can be presented by the prosecution in the trial.

Amanda Kilgore of DCI testified that she took 510 photos inside the home and at least 300 photos of the victims. She said the photos are used to establish how each victim was shot and where the shooter was standing.

Shubatt eventually OKs five photos, saying their merit outweighs their graphic nature.

The photos are expected to be the topic of initial testimony when the court reconvenes at 1 p.m.

UPDATE

A Manchester, Iowa, police officer testified that shortly after the bodies were found, investigators started focusing on Isaiah Sweet.

Sgt. James Hauschild said investigators looked at Sweet when they didn't find him at home and there were no signs of forced entry into the home where the bodies were found.

Hauschild said that following Sweet's arrest, Sweet admitted to the killings. It seemed like a weight had been lifted off Sweet's shoulders, said Hauschild.

The teen initially planned to kill his grandparents with a baseball bat, but Internet search history also showed Sweet searched for clean, nonpainful ways to kill, Hauschild said.

The officer also said there was a history of responding to the residence. He said it was normally the grandparents making the calls because Sweet was out of control and that that grandparents asked about a mental health committal for their grandson.

Under questioning by the defense, Hauschild also said that on most of those occasions, Sweet's grandfather, Richard Sweet, was intoxicated.

UPDATE

A counselor testified that Isaiah Sweet called him on May 13, asking for a ride from Iowa City.

The counselor testified that Sweet said he'd "really done it." Later that day, the counselor was contacted by police and she tried to contact Sweet again, but she was not successful.

The prosecution now has called its third witness of the day, a Manchester police officer.

ORIGINAL VERSION

The Iowa City police officer who said he pulled over Isaiah Sweet the day after his grandparents were killed is the first on the stand today.

Testimony in Sweet's trial is entering its second day.

Sweet is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and operating a vehicle without consent. He is accused of killing his grandparents, Janet and Richard Sweet, who were found shot to death May 13, 2012, in their Manchester home by family members coming for a Mother's Day celebration. He then allegedly stole his grandfather's truck.

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