Quanrude found guilty of Second Degree Murder

Found guilty of Second Degree Murder ... John Quanrude of Waukon (right) stands with his lawyer, Scott J. Nelson, as the verdict is read in his jury trial for Second Degree Murder in the shooting death of Dean Russell of Waukon. In a trial that began Monday, September 10 in the Allamakee County Courthouse, the 12-member jury rendered a verdict of guilty Thursday morning, September 13 after deliberating for just one hour. Standard photo by Lissa Blake.

by Lissa Blake

Guilty as charged.
That was the verdict handed down Thursday, September 13 in the Second Degree Murder case of the State of Iowa versus John Michael Quanrude of Waukon. Quanrude, age 32, was convicted of shooting his stepfather and roommate, 60-year-old Dean Russell of Waukon, the afternoon of April 16 of this year in the home the two shared at 49 Jean Road in the Parkview Trailer Court in Waukon.

Prosecuting the case were Allamakee County Attorney Jill Kistler and Susan Krisko, assistant attorney general for the State of Iowa. Quanrude was defended by Scott J. Nelson of the Iowa State Defender’s Office located in Dubuque. The case was tried by District Judge John Bauercamper in the large courtroom of the Allamakee County Courthouse in Waukon.

Jury selection took most of the day the first day of the trial, Monday, September 10. A pool of 77 potential jurors was first educated about the charges brought by the State and the fact that Quanrude had pleaded not guilty. Judge Bauercamper also reminded those present that Quanrude was protected by the presumption of innocence and that to convict, the State would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty.

Nelson reiterated that the burden of proof was not on the defendant to prove he was innocent, it was the burden of the State to prove that he was guilty. He added that Quanrude was not required to testify.

By the end of the day, 12 jurors and two alternates had been picked. Before they were released for the day, Bauercamper issued an admonition to jurors, advising them not to speak with anyone connected to the case or do any of their own research outside the courtroom. He also encouraged them to keep an open mind:

“Do not form an opinion, but keep an open mind until all the evidence is presented,” he said.

In her opening statement to the jury Tuesday morning, September 11, Kistler said, “This is not a case of ‘whodunnit’. We know who killed Dean Russell. The question is ‘Should the defendant be held responsible?’.”

In his opening statement, Nelson said there was much undisputed evidence against Quanrude, but there were some subtle differences. He said Quanrude actually obtained the shotgun to protect Russell and he actually believed there was someone there to do him harm. “There is no evidence of malice aforethought,” said Nelson.

The jury next was able to hear the audio of the 911 call placed following the shooting, where Quanrude said he shot his friend. The first witness called by the prosecution was Waukon City Police Officer Jeremy Wicks, the first officer to arrive at the scene April 16.

Wicks said when the call came in, he initially thought he was walking into an accidental shooting. He said Quanrude met him in the yard of the residence. The front door to the residence was open and Wicks entered the home to find a male subject lying face down and motionless. Wicks recounted Quanrude saying, “He was messing with me” and “I fired two shots.”

Wicks next asked the defendant to assist him in rolling the body over so he could apply medical aid, noting that Quanrude repeatedly referred to the person on the floor as “Nate.” Wicks said he asked Quanrude to retrieve a scissors for him so he could cut off the victim’s shirt and Quanrude complied.

After the emergency response team showed up, Wicks took the defendant to the Waukon Police Department and sat him down in an interview room, which was under video surveillance. While out of the room, Wicks said he saw the defendant leave the room and enter the garage area in an apparent attempt to escape. At that point, Wicks radioed for back-up, after which Quanrude ran into a corner. Wicks deployed his taser to control Quanrude and put him back into the interview room.

While Wicks was typing his report, Quanrude attempted to leave the room a second time. Wicks made a few phone calls and was instructed by Kistler to contact the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

After the DCI agent arrived, Quanrude made a third attempt to leave the room and the agent tried to calm him down. Wicks said during that attempt, officers had to go “hands on” and decided to move Quanrude to somewhere more secure. He was taken to the Allamakee County Law Enforcement Center to be detained.

When questioned by Nelson, Wicks said he felt Quanrude’s actions were consistent with someone who was under the influence of something. He said he also acted like someone who was in shock.

The State next called to the witness stand Bonnie Russell, sister of Dean Russell, who explained Russell was on disability for both emphysema and asthma concerns. She described him as someone who was “slow going” and never hostile. When Nelson asked if Russell knew of any instances where either Dean or Quanrude exhibited violence, she said she did not.

Allamakee County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Thorsten said he arrived at the scene where he met fellow Deputy Stuart Bloxham and Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick. He said Quanrude identified the victim as Nate Klein, who is actually a resident of Mechanicsville.

After ascertaining the location of the gun, Thorsten said he continued his conversation with the defendant, who twice told him the person he had shot was Nate Klein. Thorsten, who said he knew both Russell and Klein, said, “This is Dean Russell’s trailer, isn’t it?” to which Quanrude answered, “Yes, and I shot him. Nate is out there somewhere laughing.”

Thorsten said he continued his conversation with Quanrude, during which Quanrude said the shooting wasn’t really self-defense and that he had fired a warning shot. “He made a comment that he was an idiot and asked if he would go to prison for a long time,” said Thorsten.

Although Quanrude indicated to Thorsten that a couple of people had been at the home earlier, there was no evidence found to confirm that.

The prosecution next played footage of body cameras worn by both Wicks and Bloxham. Nelson objected to the use of the footage, citing the “gruesomeness of the scene” and saying that would be prejudicial against Quanrude. Bauercamper overruled the objections and allowed the jury to view the videos.

During the video, emergency personnel can be heard addressing the victim as Nathan. During her testimony, paramedic Cheryl Livingston was questioned by Nelson as to whether or not Quanrude appeared to be under the influence of some type of drug, and Livingston said, “Not particularly.”

The State next called Justin Grodnitsky, a criminalist with DCI. The prosecution showed the jury many photos taken by DCI, while Grodnitsky explained what they were. Grodnitsky said his team was at the scene that day for about six and a half hours. When Grodnitsky was asked if there was any way to determine whether or not the firing of the gun had been accidental, Grodnitsky said it did not appear to be accidental.

When Deputy Bloxham was questioned about Quanrude’s demeanor when he arrived at the accident, Bloxham said, he “could tell he was upset.” In response to a question about whether or not Quanrude was under the influence of something, Bloxham said Quanrude was definitely distraught, but he could not say with certainty that he was under the influence.

When Kistler asked Bloxham if in his previous dealings with the defendant he was ever known to be aggressive, Bloxham said, “Not to my knowledge.”

The State next called Denver Leach, Quanrude’s nephew, to the stand. Leach related how the night before the shooting, he had been contacted by Quanrude, who said someone was trying to break into the trailer.

“He was clearly freaked out about something,” said Leach. “He asked to borrow a better gun than he already had.”

Leach recounted lending Quanrude a 12-gauge shotgun and showing him how to load it. He said the first he heard of the shooting was the next day when his mother told him someone had been shot at his grandfather’s home.

When the prosecution asked Leach if it seemed like Quanrude was under the influence at the time, he answered, “No.” When Nelson asked Leach if he thought it was strange that Quanrude would be so fearful, he replied, “A little,” adding he asked Quanrude for more information, but Quanrude said he didn’t want to tell him more.

The next person to testify was DCI Special Agent Matthew Schalk. He said his office was called to the scene “to gather the truth.”

Schalk said his team conducted some interviews, and initially wanted to find and locate Nate Klein; however, it was determined he had not been in Waukon at the time of the shooting.

When the prosecution asked if there was ever evidence of anyone besides Russell and Quanrude in the trailer, he said there was not. He added that as part of the investigation his team looked historically into Quanrude’s behavior, and found that he had previously expressed violence and threats toward his former roommate and cousin, Luke O’Neill.

When Nelson asked Schalk if he had learned during his investigation that Quanrude had been “on a bender, used meth and was foggy,” Schalk said while that was possible, other individuals said he had not used any drugs. When Nelson asked if DCI had ordered a drug test, Schalk said at the time, Quanrude was comprehending his questions and following instructions. No drug test was ordered.

Schalk also said that during his research, he did not find any history of hostility between Russell and Quanrude. When Nelson asked Schalk about Quanrude’s mental state at the time, he said, “I saw no signs that Mr. Quanrude would need to be mentally committed.”

When court resumed Wednesday morning, September 15, the State called State Medical Examiner Dr. Dennis Klein. He said in accordance with standard procedures, the body of Dean Russell was determined to have shotgun entrance wounds. The cause of death for Dean Russell was determined to be homicide by shotgun wound to the chest.

Dr. Klein was asked by Nelson if there was any information gathered concerning the relationship between the height of the body and location of the wound. Dr. Klein said those measurements would have no influence on the determining factors of death, so those measurements were not taken.

Nelson next asked about specific details concerning the trajectory of the buckshot, distance of the body from the shotgun and the specific type of shotgun shells. It was determined there were three types of shotgun shells: two types were identified to have been supplied by Leach at the time the defendant acquired the gun, and one type was unaccounted for. No information was gathered concerning the trajectory of the buckshot nor the distance of the body from the shotgun.

In response to a question concerning the bruising on the back of the victim’s hand, Klein replied that the bruising on the back of the hand is a non-specific injury and no determination could be obtained as to when it happened or what caused it. He explained that a report detailing the cause of death and contributing factors was sent to the Waukon Police Department and there was no request for any follow-up information.

After the jury was dismissed to the jury room, a short hearing was held, where the defense moved for dismissal on the grounds that insufficient information was submitted to continue. After the State objected, Bauercamper said sufficient evidence had been submitted and the motion for dismissal was denied.

The trial resumed with open court and no jury present. The judge, prosecution and defense attorney reviewed the instructions to the jury. After some discussion, the court decided to keep the instructions as written and summoned the jury.

After the jury returned and instructions to the jury were read aloud, the State presented its closing arguments, which included a slide show. The prosecution emphasized the concepts of evidence, common sense and making a determination based on fact. The State also advised the jury to use reasonable judgment and allow no excuses for hallucinations or paranoia.

After the prosecution rested, the defense began with the idea that just because something happened does not mean someone has to pay. Defense attorney Nelson next argued that the State did not prove its case, noting that the first two points were agreed on by all parties: No. 1, John Quanrude shot Dean Russell; and No. 2, Dean Russell died as a result of that shot. He contended that condition No. 3, “malice aforethought,” had not been proven by the State and that all evidence showed the opposite.

The State reiterated that the defendant was not mentally ill, no drugs were slipped to him, there was no fear of anything real and there was no other gun and no other shooter. The prosecution went on to depict Quanrude as coherent following the shooting and said “people are accountable for their actions.”
Thursday morning, September 13, the jury deliberated for only about an hour before returning a verdict of guilty of the crime of murder in the second degree. Following the trial, members of the jury said the group had a good discussion during deliberations, based on the instructions given to them by the court. “There were four criteria for second-degree murder. When all four points matched, we stopped there,” said the jurors.

With regard to the defense’s contention that the State failed to prove malice aforethought, the jurors said, “We know Quanrude didn’t shoot to kill Dean Russell, but his intentions were to shoot someone… In deciding our verdict, we relied on the judge’s instructions and the evidence as presented.”

Spokespersons for Quanrude’s family said, while they were somewhat surprised by the verdict, “you have to trust the process,” adding they feel he received a fair trial. The family of Dean Russell declined to comment.

A sentencing hearing for John Michael Quanrude will take place Monday, October 1 at 2:30 p.m. at the Allamakee County Courthouse in Waukon. According to Iowa law, Second Degree Murder is a Class B felony and carries a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

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