OTTUMWA — Due to the rise of COVID-19, jury trials in Iowa have been paused.
That order by the Iowa Supreme Court, issued Tuesday, includes the trial of two men charged for a 2018 shootout with police in Ottumwa that was set to begin next week.
Jury trials mean lots of people showing up to courthouses across the state for the laborious process of jury selections, particularly in high-profile trials where jury pools can consist of more than 100 people.
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen said the risk is simply too high given current COVID-19 spread across the state.
“We monitor the daily positivity rates of COVID-19 in Iowa and have decided that bringing together the number of people required for a jury trial creates too high of a risk for someone to be exposed, even with the multitude of safeguards we have in place,” Christensen said.
Dalton Cook and Michael Bibby, both of Ottumwa, were set to begin a combined trial Tuesday that included robbery and burglary charges, as well as 10 counts of attempted murder. The charges could carry up to 200 years in prison each for Cook and Bibby.
Prior to the shootout, police said Cook and Bibby were involved in an armed robbery of an Ottumwa home, where a man had also been shot.
Another high-profile trial now delayed is the first-degree murder trial for Michelle Lee Boat, which was scheduled for Jan. 4 in Marion County. Boat is accused by police in the May killing of an Ottumwa woman in Pella.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man charged in the August 2018 murder of Mollie Tibbetts, was slated to go to trial in January, as well, and will be postponed. Bahena Rivera was charged with first-degree murder in Poweshiek County, but the trial has been moved to Scott County. The disappearance, and ultimate discovery of Tibbetts’ body, made national headlines.
The Tuesday order by the Iowa Supreme Court applies to any jury trial that has not sworn in a jury by Monday. Deadline extensions for Iowa’s speedy trial rules were also automatically granted, and grand jury proceedings are also paused.