Jury convicts Early man

Kirk R. Levin was convicted of first-degree murder and third-degree kidnapping Thursday afternoon, less than two hours after jurors began deliberations.

Levin, 21, was found guilty in Webster County District Court of killing his mother, Marilyn Schmitt, 45, of Early, and kidnapping Jessica Vega, 21, of Storm Lake.

Sac County Attorney Ben Smith said he was happy with the verdict.

“This wasn’t the only thing on our plate,” Smith said. “It’s hard to think about other things when you’re so busy with one case.”

He added that although the prosecution was successful, it doesn’t change the fact that one victim is dead.

“This isn’t bringing Marilyn back,” Smith said. “And the defendant is their own blood too, so they’re still hurting.”

The Schmitt family declined to comment after the verdict was announced, but they issued a statement saying they were happy with the verdict and requested their privacy.

Levin’s attorney, Charles Kenville, did not comment.

Smith admitted he wasn’t sure what the jury would decide.

“They can do anything,” Smith said. “Even though the evidence was strong, there were times I thought it was possible they would think there was no intent to sexually assault (Vega), and it was quite possible they would believe he acted without thinking.”

To convict Levin of third-degree kidnapping, prosecutors had to prove he had intended to either sexually assault or secretly confine Vega, who also did not comment after the verdict.

In closing arguments, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Doug Hammerand reminded jurors of all the evidence the prosecution had presented, including two police interviews with Levin where he admitted killing Schmitt and kidnapping Vega.

He said Schmitt was happy that Levin was moving in with her at 2242 Ira Ave. in Early, and had even gotten him a job interview at the company where she worked.

“Within 48 hours, the way the defendant repaid her for her kindness was by stabbing and cutting her 88 times,” Hammerand said. “He broke her neck and strangled her. He took this belt and cinched it around her neck and left her in the bedroom.”

Hammerand said the evidence showed that after killing Schmitt Levin took a shower and changed clothes before driving up to Storm Lake to see Vega. After telling Vega his car broke down, Levin asked her to drive him back to Early, according to Hammerand.

“Jessica goes with him to the barn,” Hammerand said. “He grabs a yellow nylon rope. This is the rope he ties up Jessica with and says, ‘I’m kidnapping you.'”

But, Hammerand added, Vega remained calm and told Levin she wouldn’t fight him if he drove back to Storm Lake to pick up her daughter.

Vega previously testified her goal was to “get back to society.” Hammerand said Vega was able to get away after Levin’s car went off the road and Early farmer Gary Schramm stopped to help.

Addressing the murder charge, Hammerand said Levin clearly committed first-degree murder when he killed Schmitt.

“This wasn’t a woman who slipped and fell down the steps and broke her neck,” Hammerand said. “She didn’t fall on a knife and cut herself by accident. She didn’t strangle herself by accident. It was an intentional act.”

He also said Levin’s own words prove Vega’s kidnapping was sexually motivated.

“Was the defendant intending to commit sexual abuse? Clearly, he was,” Hammerand said. “When they asked him if he wanted to commit a sex act, he responded with ‘I can’t think of any other reason why’ he would have kidnapped her.”

Kenville, in closing, said he was not denying Levin killed Schmitt. However, he argued that his client’s actions were not premeditated.

“Just because he killed her does not mean it’s murder in the first degree,” Kenville said. “What we’re contesting is the premeditation and deliberation. You have to start from the standpoint that the defendant did not have those characteristics.”

Kenville argued that Levin was not in the right state of mind when he killed Schmitt.

“Any time there’s an act, there’s going to be time before that,” he said. “Just because there’s a span of time doesn’t mean his mental state is intact. There still has to be premeditation and motivation. Do we have evidence of that? I don’t think we really do.”

He added much of the state’s case was based on speculation. Specifically, he talked about the knife used as the apparent murder weapon.

“We don’t know where that knife was before it happened,” Kenville said. “That knife could have been upstairs already. You saw in the crime scene video that Ms. Schmitt was doing remodeling and working on carpet. That knife could easily have been right there before this happened. Do we know that? No.”

Kenville also said investigators came up with the idea that a sexual fantasy led Levin to kidnap Vega.

“If you listen to the way police progress down the issue, you see that they bring it up and try to say it different ways,” he said. “The idea of the defendant’s fantasy to rape Ms. Vega I think is the police’s.”

Hammerand disagreed, and said Levin was pretending to not remember details about the crimes.

“He starts out by saying, ‘I just woke up. There was snow. Jessica was yelling. I don’t remember, I don’t remember,'” Hammerand said. “They keep interviewing him, and all of a sudden the cloud lifts. He’s saying he was there. He remembers the details.”

Levin’s sentencing is set for July 12 in Sac City. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison on the murder conviction and 10 years in prison on the kidnapping conviction. Smith said he will ask the judge for the sentences to run consecutively.

“These were two different crimes and two different victims,” he said.