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Iowa City Murder Suspect Found Not Guilty


IOWA CITY, Iowa - After spending the last six years under a cloud of suspicion in connection with the 2005 death of his 21-month-old son Isaac, Brian Dykstra on Thursday was exonerated and – his former wife said – finally allowed to mourn.

“This means we can finally grieve our son,” a teary-eyed Lisa DeWaard said after hearing the not guilty verdict in her ex-husband’s trial. “It’s been six very very long years.”

A 12-member jury found Dykstra, 35, not guilty of second-degree murder at 2:30 p.m. Thursday after deliberating about eight hours and determining that he did not cause the severe head injuries that took Isaac’s life on Aug. 14, 2005.

Immediately after hearing the verdict, Dykstra – who had been mostly stoic throughout the two-week trial – began weeping and buried his face in the shoulder of his attorney Leon Spies.

Sobs also erupted from the large group of family members and friends who were gathered in the courtroom.

“Oh my gosh,” Dykstra said under his breath.

“Thank God,” DeWaard said. “I’m elated.”

Dykstra was arrested in August 2008 – three years after he called 911 on Aug. 13, 2005, and hung up. When an operator called back, Dykstra said his son had suffered a seizure and was struggling to breathe. Responding paramedics found Isaac unconscious with severe head injuries and significant bruising.

He was rushed to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where he died the next day with brain swelling, brain and retinal hemorrhaging and a hematoma.

Prosecutors – after consulting with the numerous doctors who treated Isaac – told jurors that the child’s injuries had to have occurred shortly before he was hospitalized on Aug. 13, 2005 and had to have involved significant blunt force trauma.

But Dykstra explained that Isaac fell down two stairs on Aug. 10 and that his injuries progressed over the next few days. Dykstra said he did not hurt his child on Aug. 13 but rather called 911 after the boy cried and appeared to have a seizure.

Dykstra didn’t want to comment after the verdict. DeWaard said it was “hellish” to sit through prosecutor accusations and relive the death of her son, who she and Dykstra had adopted from Russia just a few months prior.

“It was a nightmare,” she said. “Reliving the hospital experience – you never forget what the child looked like at that moment.”

Between deep breaths, DeWaard said, she doesn’t know if her heart has ever beat as fast.

“I’m happy that the truth won,” she said.

The not guilty verdict for the Johnson County Attorney’s Office comes just a few weeks after a judge granted a mistrial due to prosecutor error in the high profile first-degree murder case of Charles Thompson, accused in the Oct. 8, 2009, shooting death of John Versypt in south Iowa City.

Thompson’s new trial has been set for Dec. 5.

Prosecutors in the Dykstra trial left the courtroom Thursday after the verdict and did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

During closing arguments in Dystra’s trial, Assistant Johnson County Attorney Anne Lahey told jurors that prosecutors didn’t have to prove how Dykstra killed his son – whether he slammed him or shook him or did something else.

They had to prove only that he inflicted the fatal injuries, and Lahey reminded jurors that several University of Iowa doctors said the severe injuries only could have occurred shortly before Isaac was hospitalized – when he was in the sole care of his father.

But Dykstra’s defense attorney told jurors that even the Iowa Medical Examiner couldn’t say for sure whether Isaac’s death was a murder or accident. And, he said, any doubts had to be resolved in his client’s favor.

“The evidence was clear that Brian was not the kind of man or father who would kill a child they worked so hard to have in their family,” Spies said after the verdict Thursday. “It was a nightmare compounded too too long.”

Spies said no one can imagine the grief Dykstra and DeWaard have endured over these years.

“Certainly this has prolonged the agony of Isaac’s death,” he said, adding that the verdict might provide some “sense of relief for them.”

Friend Judy Nyren, who testified to Dykstra’s good character during the trial, said after the verdict that justice was done.

“It was slow justice,” she said. “But absolutely.”

2011 Nov 3