COUNCIL BLUFFS — Marion County Attorney Ed Bull told a Pottawattamie County jury Friday that the evidence they will hear will lead them to only one conclusion: That Jason Carter killed his mother.
The trial against Jason Carter for first-degree murder began after a day-long delay from Thursday, due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
By 10 a.m. Friday, however, the trial got back on track with the finalization of the 14-member jury, which includes two alternates. Eleven women and three men were selected to hear the case.
A long break led to opening statements Friday afternoon, where Marion County Attorney Ed Bull presented an outline of the state’s case against Jason Carter.
Jason Carter is accused of killing his mother, Shirley Carter, at her Lacona, Iowa home in rural Marion County on June 19, 2015. Prosecutors say he made an “amateur’s attempt” at making the scene look as though a burglary had taken place. Yet, no belongings were missing.
Bull said Jason Carter wasn’t poor, and the killing wasn’t over money. Instead, Bull offered, Jason Carter was under immense pressure for his farm to succeed.
“This case is not about money, it’s about pressure,” Bull told the jury. “It’s about the reality of what’s going to happen next. It’s about, ‘Am I going to be able to be a full-time farmer.’”
Jason Carter’s parents Bill and Shirley Carter started their farm from the ground up, Bull said. And over their lifetime, accumulated approximately $6 million worth of land.
Standing to inherit that land was Jason Carter, the only farmer out of Bill and Shirley Carter’s three children. And Jason Carter knew it, Bull said, as he was the executor of the estate.
Jason Carter would have also received a third of the estate’s liquid assets, which included $800,000 in a savings account, Bull said. That inheritance would only be available after the death of both his parents.
“Was Jason Carter planning on killing both of his parents that day? I don’t know,” Bull said. “Did his dad just not show up in time? I don’t know. But I’m not required to prove to you why Jason Carter did what he did. I’m only required to prove to you that he did shoot and kill his mom.”
Bull said testimony will show a rift between Jason Carter and his mother. Bull said there will be testimony about a past statement attributed to Jason Carter when asked why he didn’t just partner with his parents to eventually take over their farming business.
Jason Carter, according to Bull’s citation of testimony, told an individual he would never work with Shirley Carter, referring to her by a coarse name.
The relationship between Bill Carter and Jason Carter was much better, Bull said. Maybe the death of Shirley Carter would make it easier for Jason Carter to begin taking over the family farm.
“It could be something as simple as, ‘If mom’s out of the way, dad who has been showing me all along that he’s willing to step aside and let me farm the land,’ ... again I don’t know,” Bull said.
Jason Carter’s defense attorney Christine Branstad in her opening statement said the conclusion reached by the state is the result of seeing the evidence with tunnel vision.
She said investigators didn’t complete significant parts of the investigation.
“There are a lot of reports,” Branstad said. “Reports about where the murder weapon might have been, individuals that may have confessed, a possible recording of a confession of a burglar who says that he was involved in the death of Shirley Carter. And look at what law enforcement did and did not do in response to those.”
In addition, at the time she said Jason Carter’s farm operations was doing very well. She acknowledged his farming company had a high amount of debt, but Branstad said that is typical of new and growing operations.
Branstad told the jury Jason Carter’s statements cited by the state has been taken out of context.
Following opening statements, the state called five witnesses to complete the afternoon.
Witnesses mostly began establishing the timeline. The first two called were Donald Hunerdosse and Justin Jordan, farmers who seen Bill or Shirley Carter the morning of the murder.
Next was Lacey Donahoo, who at the time of the murder was working for the Iowa Corn Growers and as part of her job processed absentee ballot requests.
The morning she was killed, Shirley Carter made a phone call at 8:48 a.m. to request an absentee ballot on behalf of her husband. Donahoo didn’t remember who made the call but identified evidence that documented the request around that time.
Next was Craig Ambrose, who worked at the Cargill facility in Eddyville. Both Bill Carter and Jason Carter hauled corn to that facility on the morning Shirley Carter was killed.
To close the day, Marion County Deputy Troy Bouma was called. Bouma was the deputy that collected surveillance camera video from Cargill showing both Jason Carter and Bill Carter at the facility that morning, with time stamps showing approximately when each were seen.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Monday with more testimony. It’s expected the trial will take three weeks or more.