“The law is not all black or white,” Judge Stephen Carroll said as he spoke to Wartburg students and faculty along with Waverly community members on Constitution Day about the highly publicized Mark Becker trial.
Every year on Sept. 17 Wartburg recognizes what is called Constitution Day with a variety of different programs focusing on a timely topic of civic interest.
Carroll’s speech, “A Fair Trial in a Small Town: State of Iowa vs. Mark Becker,” revisited the case of the convicted murderer of Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.
Carroll, who presided over the Becker trial, began his speech with background information on the Mark Becker case.
Carroll said on June 24, 2009, Mark Becker shot and killed A-P football coach Ed Thomas.
That morning, Becker practiced shooting, Carroll said.
“He knew that he had to get really close to Coach Thomas to kill him,” Carroll said.
Ed Thomas was a well-respected coach and community member, having helped rebuild Parkersburg after a devastating tornado, Carroll said.
The Becker family was highly regarded within the community as well, Becker being a former player for Thomas, Carroll said.
Carroll said he knew this case was different from previous murder cases and different from the previous cases he tried.
“I knew that Mark Becker had a prior history of mental illness. Because of that I knew he would urge the insanity defense,” Carroll said.
Carroll said the insanity defense is a last ditch defense with little if any success.
The longer the history of a mental illness, the greater the likelihood the insanity defense would be successful, Carroll said.
Karen Thalacker, a Waverly attorney, said a lot of people do not realize how much work went into getting Becker a fair trial.
“There was no doubt that he was mentally ill, the question was did his mental illness meet the definition of insanity under Iowa Law,” Thalacker said.
Carroll said it is a judge’s job to make sure the defendant gets a fair trial.
Carroll said it is not his place to say whether he agreed or disagreed with the charge, he acted as a filter and managed the court room.
“Keep an open mind until you hear all the evidence,” Carroll said.
Jury foreman for the Becker case Doug Schueler said it was difficult to come to a decision.
Being a juror, you have to take really good notes and pay close attention to details, Schueler said. Deliberating several days took its toll, he said.
“They don’t really prepare you for this job,” Schueler said.
Audience member MacKenzie Compton said having this happen in Iowa made people feel a close connection to this case.
Having so much media attention around it, she said it made it interesting to hear this side of the case.
“It being such a high profile case and all the media, I think it touched everyone’s hearts in the state of Iowa,” Compton said.