Jason Carter

Jason Carter embraces his wife, Shelly Carter, following the reading of a not guilty verdict Thursday afternoon.

COUNCIL BLUFFS — Prosecutors failed to prove that Jason Carter killed his mother Shirley Carter on June 19, 2015.

A jury from Pottawattamie County, where the trial was moved due to publicity, deliberated just two hours Thursday before finding Jason Carter not guilty of first-degree murder.

A nearly three-week trial of the Marion County man accused by his father and authorities of killing his mother, Shirley Carter, on June 19, 2015, concluded Thursday with that verdict.

Immediately, Shelly Carter, the wife of Jason Carter, leaned over a railing from the gallery to embrace her husband. The emotions continued as together Jason and Shelly Carter addressed the media in the courtroom.

“I just wanna go home and see my kids,” an emotional Jason Carter. “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve had to endure so much. Nobody can even come close to knowing.”

After a walk down a stairway toward the defense’s headquarters in the courthouse, Jason Carter had more to say.


Shirley Carter

With a gaggle of press in toe, Jason Carter stopped at the base of the stairwell to thank his team of attorneys.

Later, he called upon law enforcement to find whoever is responsible for killing his mother.

“Bring the people who did this to justice,” Jason Carter said. “Do your job.”

Until the verdict, Marion County Attorney Ed Bull thought authorities had done that. He said he looked forward to potentially learning from the jury where the state fell short.

“When I walk into a courtroom and I charge a person with murder in the first degree, I’m firmly convinced that’s the person who committed the offense,” Bull said.

It’ll be the task of law enforcement to continue their investigation into finding other suspects. With the verdict, Bull said, the fact remains that Shirley Carter was murdered.

“There’s no winners in this case,” Bull said. “Shirley Carter is still dead. Bill Carter still every day wakes up and his wife isn’t there next to him. The reality is we presented the best case we had with the evidence we had, and I hope that Mr. Carter and his family understands that we did the best we could for him, to try and bring justice to Shirley Carter.”

Branstad she felt, in the end, the evidence is what the jury saw.

“We felt the jury heard the message and looked at the evidence,” Branstad said. “We couldn’t be happier.”

In her closing arguments Thursday morning, Branstad outlined for the jury the lack of evidence in the case. Namely, the admitted lack of DNA and forensics evidence to tie Jason Carter to the killing.

Branstad argued investigators wanted to arrest Jason Carter for the killing and took various statements and actions out of context to attempt to build their case.

More than 30 witnesses were called between the sides in the trial. A jury of eight women and three men decided the case.

Branstad said there were many leads that weren’t followed. Bull said that amounts to mere smoke the defense is offering to cloud the jury’s picture.

She called Mark Ludwick, a special agent from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation that led the Shirley Carter investigation, to the stand. He testified to lead after lead, and person after person, for some six hours over a two-day period.

Jason Carter Murder Trial

Jason Carter speaks with the media after a jury found him not guilty of his mother's murder on Thursday, March 21, 2019. The trial took place in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (POOL, Kyle Ocker/Daily Iowegian)

The defense also brought in what Bull referred to as a “hired gun.” That was forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. He testified that in his assessment, Shirley Carter had been dead approximately two hours before Jason Carter found her.

Bull argued that the defense did not feed Wecht all of the information, rendering his opinion meaningless. Additionally, he argued, determining time of death is no exact science.

Though, the testimony would have shifted Shirley Carter’s killing close to 9 a.m. that morning, a time in which Jason Carter would have been on the road to Eddyville to deliver grain to Cargill.

Prosecutors argued Jason Carter’s timeline that day had a period of unaccounted time up to 17 minutes or more before he dialed his sister, Jana Lain, to inform her he found their mother dead on her kitchen floor.

Police took more than two years to arrest and charge Jason Carter for his mother’s murder. His arrest came two days after a Marion County jury found Jason Carter liable for his mother’s killing. That verdict came in a civil lawsuit filed by his father, Bill Carter, against him for wrongful death.

The standard in civil court bases verdicts on a preponderance of evidence. Meanwhile, criminal trials require a jury be convinced of a defendant’s guilty beyond all reasonable doubt — a significantly higher standard.

Kyle Ocker has been the editor of the Knoxville Journal Express since November 2016. He formerly held the titles of sports editor and associate editor at the Centerville Daily Iowegian, a sister paper to the Journal Express.

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