In what appears to be a first for Iowa, a judge ruled this week that a Red Oak man is immune from prosecution for a fatal shooting under Iowa’s new “Stand Your Ground” law.
The attorney for Kevin D. Staley believes this is the first time the law has been invoked successfully in Iowa after it went into effect July 1.
“This is a huge deal for the state of Iowa,” said DeShawne Bird-Sell, of Glenwood, Iowa, Staley’s attorney. The decision, she said, begins to establish a precedent for subsequent cases.
“This will presumably be quoted in many jurisdictions,” Bird-Sell said. “In essence, this is the first of its kind.”
Staley, 39, was to go on trial Tuesday on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Devin Davis, 27, of Villisca, Iowa.
The two had been in a confrontation, and Staley shot Davis in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2017, near downtown Red Oak.
District Court Judge James S. Heckerman made his decision after a hearing on Monday.
Heckerman’s order laid out what happened: Staley was lured to an alley where Davis and another man attacked him about 3:30 a.m. Oct. 11. Staley was knocked to the ground and pulled a licensed and registered gun from his waist and shot Davis once.
“They basically jumped him in an alley. They were going to beat him up …(Davis) jumped him and knocked him to the ground,” said Montgomery County Attorney Bruce Swanson. “So Staley pulls his handy-dandy revolver and shoots him in the chest.”
But Davis didn’t fall. Instead he and the other man ran off, with Davis collapsing and dying a few seconds later.
“My defendant didn’t know he actually struck Devin Davis,” Bird-Sell said. “He thought that he had scared them away from attacking him.”
Staley went home and went to sleep. It wasn’t until the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation knocked on his door several hours later that he was made aware Davis had died.
In Heckerman’s order, the judge writes that Staley “was ambushed by two men wearing hoodies and bandannas on their faces … Staley found himself in a dark alley with two masked men screaming and running toward him. … A reasonable person being attacked in a dark alley by masked men would believe their life to be in jeopardy.”
Davis’ mother, Lavonne Squires, 43, of Villisca, which is near Red Oak, denied her son had attacked Staley. He was in the area because he was going to grab some power tools from someone who lives in the neighborhood for a roofing job.
“It states in law that you can only use the same force that is being used on you,” she said. “My son did not have a gun.”
Davis’ son, Dreyven, has his second birthday coming up later this month. At night, Squires said, he screams for his father. “And it tears my heart out.”
Bird-Sell said she knows Davis’ family and has represented them before.
“There is no winner in a death,” she said. “My client did not wish to see someone die in this.”
Swanson, the county attorney, is not upset by Heckerman’s decision.
“It’s the law. I’m not a legislator, I’m a lawyer,” he said. “I don’t dispute what the judge ruled. He was well within his bounds, based on the facts we presented.”
In April, then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed a wide-ranging gun bill that contained a stand-your-ground provision. Democrats and others expressed concern over the provision, saying it could lead to an increase in gun violence.
Bird-Sell said the provision has been invoked in Iowa two other times since Branstad signed the measure. One case was in Des Moines, the other in Iowa City.
One effort was unsuccessful, the other is pending:
A 29-year-old Des Moines woman accused of killing her stepfather claimed it as a defense, but a judge ruled that the shooting occurred nearly two months before the law went into effect, so it doesn’t apply, the Des Moines Register reported.
A man found guilty in an Aug. 27, 2017, shooting on the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall has claimed “Stand Your Ground” as a post-conviction defense. The judge will hold a hearing later this month on whether the man has immunity, even though he already has been convicted, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen.