OTTUMWA — After deliberating for approximately four hours Tuesday, a Wapello County Jury found an Ottumwa man guilty of second-degree murder.
The verdict means Douglas Raymond Spurgeon Jr., who turns 44 Sunday, no longer faces life in prison without the possibility parole, but still faces a lengthy prison sentence. The jury also found him guilty of assault while participating in a public offense causing serious injury, and going armed with intent.
Judge Crystal Cronk set sentencing for March 6 at 10 a.m. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison, with parole eligibility after 35 years. The other charges add 10 and 5 years of potential prison time, respectively. Cronk will also have discretion to further enhance Spurgeon’s sentence based on his prior record.
Spurgeon was originally charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 55-year-old Gerald William Sapp. Sapp was stabbed 16 times and died on Ottumwa’s south side on Nov. 11, 2021.
Before breaking for their deliberations on the fourth day of trial Tuesday, jurors heard attorneys from both sides present their closing arguments for the case.
Wapello County Attorney Reuben Neff said the story given by Spurgeon at trial through his witnesses and his own testimony is at conflict with the physical evidence collected by investigators at the scene.
"His story makes absolutely no sense when you really look at it," Neff told the jury in his rebuttal arguments Tuesday.
In closing arguments for Spurgeon, defense attorney Robert Breckenridge said it's the state's theory that doesn't make sense because Spurgeon would have no reason to stab Sapp 16 times that day. "Sixteen times is personal — you have to have a reason to keep stabbing someone 16 times," Breckenridge said.
Instead, Breckenridge argued to the jury that his client's recounting of events are more sensible because Spurgeon would have had no motive to stab Sapp 16 times. Spurgeon testified Friday he stabbed Sapp with a pocket knife in self-defense because he was attacked in the alleyway by Sapp. Once Spurgeon was able to get away he fled home, and someone else stabbed Sapp the remaining 13 times with a different knife.
"So, which is more reasonable to you," Breckenridge asked the jury "That Doug — having no connection with this man, no evidence that he's tripped out or homicidal or a psychopath — just suddenly decides to go out and stab somebody 16 times ... is that the reasonable explanation here? Because that is what the state is asking you to believe. ...
"Or is it more reasonable that Doug defended himself, left the scene, then someone else finished off Gerald Sapp?"
Defense attorneys have claimed Sapp was a drug user who had a drug debt with the 911 caller, Patrick Parker, who died before trial and before he could be deposed. Breckenridge also claimed that the state's eye witness, Arthur Dyke, was lying about his account still because he feared perjury charges because he had already spoken under oath previously.
"He and Pat Parker came up with a story," Breckenridge said. "He [Dyke] was going to tell that story or Pat Parker was going to end him. ... Instead of saying, 'Well, Pat Parker is dead so I don't have anything to worry about.' He said, 'Yeah, I'm not worried for my life.'
"But now he's told this story at depositions under oath, and here under oath, making him subject to perjury. Making him subject to criminal charges on his own. He can't tell what ... he knows to be the real truth here because he would get in trouble."
But Neff rebutted that Spurgeon's sequence of events didn’t match physical evidence on scene. Additionally, an established timeline shows Parker and Dyke would only have had a few minutes to concoct a story that matched with existing evidence without drawing the ire of law enforcement who were on scene within a few minutes.
Neff argued that for Spurgeon's events to work it would require that, in under 23 minutes, someone would have had to have stabbed Sapp 13 times, come up with a story that matches evidence at the scene, and then make the 911 call that continued until officers arrived on scene.
"Is that reasonable within minutes they come up ... [with] this story that just so happens to line up with all the physical evidence? No, it is absolutely not," Neff said.
Investigators confiscated numerous knives from Spurgeon's mother's residence, where he lived, but have not located a definitive murder weapon. Experts who testified did not say for certain whether there was more than one knife, but a broken piece of a knife tip was found in Sapp's skull.
In Iowa, there are two degrees of murder: first-degree, which requires the state prove premeditation, and second-degree, which does not include a premeditation factor.