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State, defense rest in Grundy Center trooper slaying trial

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WEBSTER CITY -- Testimony has ended in the trial of the man accused of killing Sgt. Jim Smith in Grundy Center in 2021.

Closing arguments in the case will be Monday.

Prosecutors rested Thursday morning after questioning their last two witnesses -- the state medical examiner and a firearms expert.

The defense indicated they weren’t calling any of their own witnesses, and the accused, 42-year-old Michael Thomas Lang, told the court he wasn’t going to testify.

Lang is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault on a peace officer. Authorities said he struggled with and choked a Grundy Center police officer following an attempted traffic stop and chase. He then fled home and shot Smith, a state trooper, with a shotgun when officers attempted to detain him.

Lang then fired the shotgun into the windshield of an armored vehicle when SWAT team members raided his house.

Defense attorney Aaron Hawbaker said Lang’s decision not to testify related his inability to argue self-defense.

Judge Joel Dalrymple said that in his view, the actions of law enforcement during the incident were lawful, and the self-defense argument wasn’t available.

The state had earlier argued that the self-defense and “stand your ground” argument aren’t allowed because residents aren’t allowed no use force to resist an arrest, not even if they believe the arrest is unlawful, not even if the arrest is actually unlawful.

Also on Thursday, Assistant AG Douglas Hammerand renewed his request to place the trial on hold on Friday to allow members of Smith’s family to travel to Washington, DC, for a Police Memorial Week ceremony Friday night and a local event over the weekend.

Hawbaker resisted, saying the defense is prepared to argue closings on Friday, and any delay would increase the risk of jurors being inadvertently exposed to publicity surrounding the case.

The judge didn’t grant the motion, but gave jurors the rest of Thursday and Friday off to allow for both sides to review and argument jury instructions. He noted that many cases that are overturned on appeal because of errors in jury instructions, and he didn’t want to speed through the process.

During the last part of testimony, State Medical Examiner Dennis Klein described Smith’s fatal injury from the 12-gauge shotgun shell.

Smith was wearing body armor, but the projectile hit his left shoulder around the armor’s shoulder strap and continued moving inward, entering around the collar bone and hitting a rib and his left lung, Klein said.

From there, the slug tore his aorta and hit is right lung. Klein found fragments of the slug around Smith’s right shoulder blade.

Klein also described a shotgun wound to Smith’s left leg. He said it entered his the back of his thigh and exited the front. He said that wound, also, could have been fatal on its own.

Ballistics Examiner Michael Tate with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation tested Lang’s shotgun and compared it with four fired shells found in Lang’s home.

Tate said he couldn’t conclude the weapon fired the spent shells because the gun’s breach face was dirty and therefor didn’t leave markings on the shells. He ran a secondary test, looking at marks from the gun’s extractor and a catch in the magazine tube. From that, he was able to conclude the spent shells had been cycled by the shotgun.

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