NEWTON — Jurors needed just 2 1/2 hours Tuesday to find Dustin Jefferson guilty of aiding and abetting first-degree murder in the death of his wife.
Law enforcement officials, led by prosecutor Laura Roan and Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren, convinced seven women and five men Jefferson, 40, helped his mother, Ginger Jefferson, kill his wife.
Kerry O’Clair Jefferson, 32, died Sept. 25, 2013, the victim of two fatal stab wounds to her neck.
“I’m relieved. That’s all I can say,” Marlene O’Clair, Kerry’s mother, said after Judge Mary Chicchelly read the verdict.
Though O’Clair Jefferson died in Tama County, the case was moved to Newton and Jasper County District Court after Chicchelly granted a change of venue.
Jurors in Tama County previously convicted Ginger Jefferson of first-degree murder. She is serving a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Dustin Jefferson dropped his chin slightly and shook his head back and forth as Chicchelly read the verdict. He did not otherwise appear to react.
O’Clair Jefferson’s family and friends, however, cried and hugged each other after jurors were dismissed from service.
The trial in Newton represented the state’s third attempt to convict Dustin Jefferson. The first in Tama County ended during jury selection after defense attorney Thomas Gaul raised questions about minority representation in the panel. Jefferson is a member of the Meskwaki tribe, which is based at its settlement near Tama and Toledo.
In Jefferson’s second trial, also in Tama County, jurors did not reach a unanimous verdict. The vote ended 11-1 to convict, according to the jury foreman, who said he was the lone holdout and was not convinced of Jefferson’s guilt.
The state alleged Ginger Jefferson and her son committed murder after an alcohol-fueled argument developed and after O’Clair Jefferson reported Dustin Jefferson’s whereabouts to law enforcement officials. The Meskwaki Nation Police Department had an outstanding arrest warrant for Jefferson for multiple counts of sex abuse.
During her closing argument Tuesday in Newton, Roan asked jurors to answer a pair of simple questions.
“Who had the motive in this case? Who had the arrest warrant?” Roan said.
O’Clair Jefferson was angry that day, according to Roan, and gave her husband up to police.
“He knew he was going to jail. He was dodging the cops. She ratted him out,” Roan said.
Roan also reminded jurors an autopsy revealed O’Clair Jefferson suffered more injury than the fatal stab wounds, suggesting Ginger Jefferson could not have acted alone.
“Ginger Jefferson at 60 years of age and almost 80 pounds lighter (than O’Clair Jefferson) did not beat the hell out of her daughter-in-law,” Roan said.
Dustin Jefferson must have helped, Roan added later.
“Without his assistance how does she even get it done?” Roan asked jurors.
Evidence also showed more of O’Clair Jefferson’s blood on Dustin Jefferson’s sandal than on Ginger Jefferson’s sneaker and just as much on Dustin Jefferson’s clothing, according to Roan.
Defense attorney Thomas Gaul took exception to that characterization during his closing statement.
“That’s simply not true. ... No. No. No,” Gaul told jurors.
He again showed jurors photos taken by investigators of the footwear, shirts and jeans collected from Dustin and Ginger Jefferson. Gaul noted large stains and numerous drops on Ginger Jefferson’s items and “just a few drops” on Dustin’s things. Those, Gaul added, could easily have been transferred from Ginger Jefferson to her son.
Gaul also talked about the murder weapon, which Jefferson told police was his own.
“Yes it’s his knife — used by Ginger Jefferson,” Gaul said.
During her closing argument, Roan reminded jurors of Dustin and Ginger Jefferson’s actions after the fatal attack.
“They both fled the scene. That’s human nature. That’s guilty knowledge,” Roan said.
Gaul countered untrained people in such high-stress situations don’t always respond logically or rationally.
“That’s not how people react when faced with horror,” he added.
Gaul noted other family members who got involved in the early moments of the crime called neither police or an ambulance.
“Those are the reactions of normal human beings,” Gaul said.
He told jurors Dustin Jefferson also returned to the house.
“Don’t let the state tell you he didn’t have any opportunity to get away. Yes, he did. And he chose not to,” Gaul said.
A conviction for aiding and abetting first-degree murder is punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. His sentencing hearing is set for April 28.