DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld the conviction of a Des Moines man who was found guilty of a dangerous weapon crime even though the jury said prosecutors never proved he had a gun.
Marshaun Merrett, 26, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in June 2012 for a drive-by shooting that authorities said was sparked by a confrontation between rival gangs. According to court documents, Merrett was riding in a vehicle from which shots were fired at another vehicle. No one was injured.
A Polk County jury found Merrett guilty of assault with intent to inflict serious injury and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. But on the verdict forms, jurors answered "no" when asked whether Merrett was in the immediate possession and control of a dangerous weapon.
On appeal, Merrett's attorneys argued that the jury's verdict was inconsistent.
But the high court disagreed. Justices said jurors could have concluded that because Merrett was in the vehicle from which the shots were fired, he aided and abetted in the crime — a determination that allows a jury to convict a suspect of intimidation with a dangerous weapon.
During the trial, Judge Richard Blane II noted the potentially inconsistent verdict. He asked defense attorneys and prosecutors if further inquiry should be made of the jury to clear up any confusion, but both sides asked the judge to accept the jury verdict.
However, Merrett's lawyers later appealed.
The Iowa Court of Appeals in July 2013 tossed Merrett's conviction on the intimidation with a dangerous weapons charge. The court agreed that verdict was inconsistent and ordered a new trial on that charge.
But the state Supreme Court's ruling on Friday overturned that decision and reinstated the original jury verdict and sentence.
"On our review, we believe the verdicts are not inconsistent," the high court said.
Iowa Attorney General spokesman Geoff Greenwood said Friday that the state "argued the verdicts were not inconsistent and ultimately the court agreed."
Attorneys for Merrett did not immediately respond to messages for comment.
Authorities said the November 2011 shooting stemmed from a confrontation between members of rival gangs in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant in Des Moines.
Merrett left in one vehicle with another man, and individuals affiliated with the other gang left in a separate car. The two cars were southbound on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway when shots were fired from the car in which Merrett was a passenger, prosecutors said. No shots were reported to have hit anyone, but bullet holes were later found in the target car.