MPD retirees: ‘We did not plant evidence’

Testimony from five witnesses Thursday in Marshall County District Court in day two of a three-day hearing will either support or weaken allegations of malicious prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct stemming from a 2008 felony conviction.

Arzel Jones, then of Marshalltown, was found guilty on several felony counts of domestic abuse, kidnapping and sexual abuse in the second degree by Judge Michael Moon in a bench trial in Marshall County District Court. Jones has alleged, among other claims, local police planted evidence to implicate him in the crimes.

He is currently an inmate at the state penitentiary in Anamosa, serving a sentence imposed by Moon, and is currently represented by attorney Christopher Clausen of Ames.

Beginning Wednesday, the two presented evidence in their post-conviction relief application to Judge James Ellefson. The application demands Ellefson reverse and dismiss the 2008 conviction against him or remand his case for retrial.

Representing the state which disputes Jones’ allegations is Assistant Marshall County Attorney Sarah Tupper.

Key developments during Thursday’s proceedings were:

• While under oath, retired Marshalltown Police Department officers Ron Ohrt and Rick Lang denied planting evidence to implicate Jones. They also denied knowing of officers planting evidence when asked by Tupper.

“I did not plant evidence nor would I,” Ohrt said.

Ohrt was the ranking officer at the crime scene when several officers went to Jones’ apartment to investigate a domestic abuse and sexual assault incident. They were authorized to enter Jones’ apartment using a search warrant applied for by Lang and signed by Judge Kim Riley. Jones had alleged Wednesday that Riley gave Lang a signed, but blank arrest warrant allowing the officer to later log in evidence seized at his apartment. Riley rebutted the allegations while testifying under oath Wednesday.

When questioned by Clausen, Lang said he had taken a call from a woman who alleged Jones had beaten her. Lang interviewed the victim who had bruises and other marks resulting from blows and strangulation. He then attempted to contact Jones at his apartment without success.

The victim called Lang from the then Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center’s hospital’s emergency department to report Jones had sexually assaulted her. Lang then returned to MPD headquarters, briefed his superiors on the developments, and applied for a search warrant to search Jones’ apartment as well as an arrest warrant.

• Dr. Lance VanGundy, one of five witnesses, told the court the victim declined to have an examination using materials supplied in a rape kit.

He said there were a number of reasons why victims decline to have a post-rape exam. Lang said he told the victim having a post-rape exam was optional.

“After an incident like that, I was trained to give the victim as much power as I could,” Lang said.

• Crime Scene Investigation and Evidence Custodian Courtney Watson testified in response to questions from Clausen that an order had been given at one time to destroy the evidence but it had not been carried out. Watson, who was not Evidence Custodian at the time, said the evidence had also been lost when it fell out of an evidence basket but then found.

• Jones alleged former Assistant Marshall County Attorney Suzanne Lampkin, who prosecuted the 2008 case, coerced damaging testimony from authorities against him and added additional charges without justification. She later resigned from the County Attorney’s office and was last known to be residing in Washington state.

Jones and Clausen claimed Lampkin’s testimony is “integral” to their case and requested Lampkin be subpoenaed to testify.

Ellefson reiterated to Jones and Clausen he would consider compelling Lampkin to testify if they can prove her testimony will have significant merit on the case. He also told Clausen and Jones they could not compel the victim to testify a second time about the incident.

Clausen and Jones said court documents showed the victim admitted she lied during testimony while under oath.

The third and possibly final day of motions and testimony will be scheduled for a later date.

Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com