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UNION -- More than 18 years after the disappearance and murder of a Marshalltown jeweler, officials have accused a former business associate in the death.

Joel Smitherman, 59, of Union, was charged Thursday with first-degree murder in the killing of Richard Tasler.

Smitherman's arraignment is scheduled for May 24, with bond set at $1 million.

In a separate case, Smitherman pleaded guilty Tuesday to third-degree sexual abuse and was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

In the 1980s he was convicted on cocaine charges and aiding and abetting an attempt to kill a federal witness. He served nine years and 10 months in federal prison, beginning in 1988.

Tasler was 43 years old when he disappeared in April 1986. His father filed a missing person's report two weeks later.

It took sheriff's deputies four years to find Tasler's body, which was buried in a 6-foot grave March 1990 on Smitherman's property.

Smitherman and Tasler were friends and seen together around the time of the disappearance, a former Marshall County sheriff told the Courier in 1990.

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"They ran around together and did business together," Derald Gonzales said, declining to comment on the type of business the men conducted.

Tasler was last seen at a Marshalltown convenience store, Gonzales said. After buying gas, Tasler left a revolver with the attendant and said he would be back to pick it up later, after visiting his mother, who didn't like him carrying a gun, Gonzales said.

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Tasler, who owned a Marshalltown jewelry store, never returned for the firearm. Search warrants found nothing missing from his store or residence. An autopsy showed Tasler died of multiple gunshot wounds.

The murder charge will not be prosecuted in Hardin County because of a conflict of interest involving the county attorney's office. Officials would not elaborate on the conflict. Instead, the Iowa Attorney General's Office will handle the case.

David Baldus, a law professor at the University of Iowa, said there is no statute of limitations on murder and that trying cases this old is not unprecedented.

"In general, the older the case is, the more difficult it is to prove, but there are exceptions," he said.

Older cases grow more difficult to prosecute as witness memories fade and other evidence becomes stale, Baldus said.

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