SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa -- After less then three hours of deliberation, a jury found Kenneth George Neilson Jr. guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Worthington resident Marlan Lutterman.
Jill Lutterman broke down in tears as Judge Patrick Carr read the jury's guilty verdict out loud Thursday evening. After more than a year, the man she held responsible for her husband's death would have the word "guilty" attached to his name.
Earlier Thursday, Judge Carr had dismissed a felony-level charge against Neilson, telling the jury he did not believe there was enough evidence to prove reckless discharge of a firearm. This left the aggravated misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Lutterman died July 29, 2007, after being hit in the back by a bullet from Neilson's Colt Python, which had been shot through the window of Neilson's apartment. Neilson told authorities he had accidentally discharged the weapon, but Iowa Assistant Attorney General Virginia Barchman, in her closing argument, called Neilson's actions "the most reckless conduct can get."
Neilson had repeatedly stated to law enforcement that he fumbled the loaded weapon while picking it up because his hands were oily from cleaning the weapon.
In an initial video-taped interview, which the jury watched on Wednesday, Neilson said he had picked up the gun by the cylinder, then started to lose his grip. In his left hand, he held a holstered 9 mm weapon, which he attempted to use to sandwich the slipping Colt. Somehow, he told authorities, the gun ended up getting cocked and fired.
Barchman presented the jury with a theory she considered more plausible -- that while waiting for his daughter to finish getting ready to go out target shooting, he had forgotten the gun was loaded and attempted to dry-fire toward the window.
Although Neilson's daughter Ashley was in the apartment when the gun went off, she did not witness the incident. Because there were no witnesses, Barchman told the jury no one would ever know exactly what happened or what Neilson said when the gun went off.
"But we know what wasn't said," she stated. "It wasn't 'Ashley!'"
His first concern was not for his daughter, Barchman stated, because Neilson knew where the bullet went.
"How? Because he was looking down the barrel when it fired," she concluded.
Jill Lutterman said she wanted to shout out "Yes!" when the guilty verdict came in, but ended up crying in relief.
"Right now I'm just really dwelling on that word 'guilty,'" she said Thursday night. "All along I've thought that he has to pay. You don't just shoot a guy."
Hearing the death of her husband referred to as an accident by Neilson was upsetting to Jill, who said an accident is when you spill milk on the carpet.
Because Neilson will be convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor, the sentence could range from probation to a maximum penalty of two years in prison, Barchman said after the trial concluded. He could also be fined.
"I'd rather see restitution to the victims than a fine," she added.
As for Marlan's daughter Hayley, she is glad the verdict came back as guilty, but said the punishment isn't really what she wants it to be. The fact that Neilson may end up serving probation is upsetting to her.
Jill, who hugged Barchman and cried after the trial, said Barchman, Cathy Hanson, Rosalise Olson, the staff of the county attorney's office and the law enforcement involved deserved a lot of thanks.
"They were my dream team," she stated. "I do feel that justice was served."
Sentencing is tentatively set for 10 a.m. Dec. 29.