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Jury finds Charles City man guilty of second-degree murder

CHARLES CITY | A Floyd County jury has found Antoine Williams guilty of second-degree murder. 

Williams, 36, of Charles City, was accused of fatally shooting 36-year-old Nathaniel Fleming just before 10 p.m. on June 30 outside the Clarkview Apartments — now known as the Casa Apartments.

Williams sat and nodded silently as the verdict was read Wednesday in Floyd County District Court, and as a roll call of each juror’s decision was taken.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister said after the verdict that the justice system did its work, and expects Williams could face up to 50 years in prison. Floyd County Attorney Rachel Ginbey told reporters Williams himself and many witnesses probably led to the jury’s decision.

“I believe the defendant’s confession he had given to the agent (Jon Turbett) or well as eyewitness testimony by many of the witnesses is what the jury would have put the emphasis on,” she said.

Nellie O’Mara and Steve Kloberdanz, who represented Williams, declined comment.

McAllister and Ginbey argued Williams planned to shoot Fleming, and that he should pay for committing such a crime.

"We're all responsible for our actions," McAllister told the jury during his closing arguments Tuesday. "Sometimes the truth is hard. Sometimes the truth hurts."

The defense countered by arguing Williams was acting in self-defense, when Fleming appeared to reach for a gun in the center console of the car he was driving that night.

"This case is not about who shot Nathaniel Fleming," Nellie O'Mara, a public defender representing Williams, said in her closing argument. "The state has shown you the who, what, the where and the how ... but they haven't shown you the why."

Friends and family testified Monday that Williams was soft-spoken, not violent and would not have shot Fleming for any other reason than to protect himself.

The state used evidence from the scene and testimony from several Iowa DCI agents to show Williams could not have acted in self-defense.

Dr. Dennis Klein, the state medical examiner, testified Fleming was shot at least four times, according to the autopsy he performed on his body. 

McAllister noted this in his closing argument, and urged the jury to use "reason, common sense and life experiences" in their deliberations.

The defense, however, argued Williams' past experiences and character traits could not have led him to commit such a heinous act. Williams took the stand Tuesday morning, and said he had survived a shooting and a stabbing over a decade ago.

Steve Kloberdanz, the other attorney representing Williams, questioned him about Fleming's actions the night of the shootingWilliams testified that although he viewed Fleming like a brother, Fleming had a temper and was hard to deal with at certain times.

"He made it impossible," Williams testified about dealing with Fleming's behavior. "He would just ugly it up for no reason ... he was ticking everyone else off."

The jury deliberated for about two hours before reaching its verdict Wednesday. The trial started Oct. 10.

A sentencing date hasn't been set. 

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Good Samaritan describes holding wrecked motorcyclist's head above Winnebago River

MASON CITY | When a Clear Lake man’s motorcycle crashed into the Winnebago River north of Mason City Tuesday afternoon, one witness said he rushed into the water to help.

Justin Hop of Newport, Minnesota, was in Mason City for work when he saw a group of motorcyclists heading north on Highway 65. 

“It was such a nice day,” said Hop, who is a driver for Jomar Freight Delivery in Minnesota.

However, he sensed something was wrong when he noticed a motorcyclist — Bernard DeWitt — losing control of his bike, Hop said. 

“I saw a smoke cloud from the shoulder where he was driving,” Hop said. “It just happened right in front of me.”

DeWitt, 49, was riding his motorcycle northbound on Highway 65 around 1:40 p.m. when he left the roadway, traveled into the median and ended up in the river, just north of B-20, the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff's Department said in a news release Tuesday.

DeWitt was traveling with two other friends, who were on separate motorcycles, the sheriff's office said.

As Hop pulled his van up toward the bridge, he knew he had to get out and help.

CZoeller / CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Cerro Gordo County Sheriff's Deputy Craig LaKose examines the scene where a man on a motorcycle left the roadway on Highway 65 north of Mason City and crashed into the Winnebago River near Road B-20 on Tuesday.

“I ran down on one side of the river, and a woman ran down the other (side) looking for him,” Hop said. “Someone yelled, ‘He’s over here.’”

Hop said he went over to where DeWitt was lying in the water. He and another woman held Dewitt’s head out of the water, Hop said, hoping help would come. A deputy later tried to help them move DeWitt from the river. 

“He was breathing, but his eyes were closed,” Hop said. “He lost consciousness.”

CPR had to be performed, according to Hop. A deputy at the scene said DeWitt sustained "very serious" injuries.

“I had a feeling he wasn’t going to make it,” Hop said. “It was a pretty bad crash.”

DeWitt was transported to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. DeWitt died Tuesday, a hospital spokesperson confirmed Wednesday morning. 

Arian Schuessler / ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 

At least one person was transported after a motorcycle accident north of Mason City Tuesday afternoon. 

“I watched it unfold, and I thought about it all day and most of the night,” Hop said.

Hop said he just wanted — and needed — to help DeWitt.

“I was hoping he would make it so I could meet him some day,” Hop said. “I am sorry for the family’s loss, and I will always think about him.”

A cross has been placed near the site where DeWitt left the roadway. 

The incident remains under investigation, according to the sheriff's office. 

Trump orders EPA to back off RFS changes, report says

PELLA | Amid rising pressure from Midwest politicians, President Donald Trump has told the Environmental Protection Agency to back off potential cuts in renewable fuel volumes, according to a national report.

Bloomberg, citing sources it didn’t identify, said EPA was told to abandon the possibility of lowering biodiesel requirements and counting ethanol exports toward the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Renewable fuels leaders said those proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard would have a devastating impact on the industry and, by extension, Iowa’s agricultural economy.

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke by phone with Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Reynolds said she was given no promises regarding specific elements of the renewable fuels mandate, but that she nonetheless was encouraged by the discussions.

“I had a very productive call with President Trump. Both of them (Trump and Pruitt) affirmed to me their continued commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Reynolds said.

Midwest politicians, led by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have been ratcheting up the pressure on the administration over the issue, frequently reminding the White House that Trump had pledged support for the RFS during the 2016 campaign. Grassley, one of the most senior lawmakers in the Senate, is a longtime promoter of renewable fuels.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who holds a key position on a Senate committee overseeing nominees to the EPA, said Wednesday that she wanted assurances the “spirit” and letter of the RFS would be followed.

“We just need very clear answers on where they are with the RFS, and if we don’t receive those assurances, then I’m not likely to move anybody ahead that could undo the RFS,” Ernst said Wednesday.

Ernst is a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, where Republicans hold an 11-10 edge.

On Wednesday, the committee postponed consideration of Trump appointee William Wehrum to head the EPA’s office of air and radiation, which oversees the RFS. The postponement came after Ernst had expressed reservations about Wehrum.

Midwest lawmakers met Tuesday with Pruitt to push for the RFS, and before that session Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said administration nominees to the EPA could be at stake.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said after Wednesday’s press conference that if the Bloomberg report is accurate, it’s good news for the renewable fuels industry and Iowa.

He added, however, that advocates will continue to press the issue until the administration publishes official rules.

“If it’s true, that’s great,” Shaw said. “If these reports are accurate, then we’re kind of at Step 2, which is (Trump) not just having it on his radar but making the decision to tell the EPA to get back on track. But we are not going to take anything for granted. We’re not going to let up our pressure until we see final rules and official documents.”

When asked for Reynolds’ reaction to the Bloomberg report, a spokeswoman said the governor was encouraged by her conversation with Trump and will continue working on the renewable fuels issue.