Jury to deliberate Marshalltown murder case

Self-defense question key factor in case

T-R PHOTOS BY TREVOR BABCOCK — Mustafa Muhammad (left) watches as the closing argument on his behalf is presented to the court.

Attorneys presented closing arguments on Tuesday in a murder trial of a Marshalltown man facing charges of first-degree murder and reckless use of a firearm.

Mustafa Muhammad, 31, pleaded not guilty to the March 15, 2020, murder of Blake Thomas, which occurred at a West Linn Street location in Marshalltown at approximately 3:30 a.m. Following an argument allegedly ignited by “trash talking” at an after hours party which Muhammad and Thomas both attended, Thomas was shot six times and died as a result of his injuries.

A group of people who witnessed the incident moved from the house where the party took place to outside where the shooting occured. Multiple eyewitnesses testified that they saw Muhammad remove a gun from his waistband and shoot at Thomas.

While the fact that Muhammad committed the shooting is not contested between the prosecution and the defense, the two sides differ on whether or not Muhammad acted in self-defense.

Assistant Marshall County Attorney Jordan Gaffney argued that the trial is about choices.

Chief Public Defender Michael Adams presents the closing argument for the defense of Mustafa Muhammad who faces charges first degree murder and reckless use of a firearm.

“Of all the choices Mr. Muhammad could have made as he was standing in Linn Street shooting at Blake, he chose to pull out that gun and use it,” Gaffney said. “He doesn’t walk away. He doesn’t just hold up the gun and demonstrate, ‘Back up dude. I’m armed.’ He doesn’t fire warning shots up into the air. He pulls out that gun, and he starts shooting.”

A detective interview with Muhammad played at the trial showed that Muhammad contradicted his version of how the events unfolded and what he was doing when Thomas was shot. After initially claiming he attempted to diffuse the situation, he later admitted to shooting at Thomas multiple times.

Muhammad also said to the detective he acted in self-defense and had no choice because Thomas and his brother Robert were threatening, armed and on drugs. Toxicology reports showed Blake Thomas had alcohol in his system at the time of his death, but no other drugs were detected.

No evidence was presented to indicate that Thomas was armed at the time he was killed. Pictures and video found on Muhammad’s phone showed a gun that was found to be the same weapon used to shoot Thomas. It was later discovered in a neighbor’s grill. Crime scene investigators found matching casings at the scene, and Muhammad’s left palm print was also identified on the gun.

Chief Public Defender Michael Adams, who represents Muhammad, said that his client didn’t wait to be shot himself, arguing the state failed to prove he was not justified.

Assistant Marshall County Attorney Jordan Gaffney presents the state’s closing argument on Tuesday in the trial of Mustafa Muhammad.

“I submit to you that Mr. Muhammad did believe his life was in jeopardy, imminent danger and that he was in imminent danger of death or very serious injury,” Adams said.

He pointed to accounts that others tried to calm down and restrain Thomas before he was shot. According to witnesses, the defense argued, Blake Thomas had said, “Who is ready to die tonight?” and then reached into his waistband before being shot.

Because the bullet casings were positioned in a straight line down the street where the shooting occured, Adams argued that it’s reasonable to believe Muhammad was trying to escape the situation as he shot. If Robert Thomas had been armed, Gaffney opined, then Muhammad would have been shot in retaliation after he fired at Blake Thomas.

Adams also argued that some of the witnesses admitted they were intoxicated the night of the incident, negatively affecting their ability to accurately recall the events, while implying that they may be biased because they were friends of Blake Thomas.

The jury will begin deliberations on Wednesday morning at the Orpheum Theater at 9 a.m. until a verdict is reached.

Robert Thomas, 37, of Marshalltown, was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence last week for first-degree murder and received an additional 25 years for a count of attempted murder. Robert Thomas committed an act of retribution just 10 days after his brother’s death, killing 22-year-old Johnqwez Lewis on March 25, 2020.


Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or



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