An unusual deal that likely will result in the early prison release of a man convicted of murdering his longtime friend in Sac City was proposed by one of his prosecutors, who believes the man should not spend the rest of his life in prison for the 2009 killing.
“To me, the defendant dying in prison is not justice,” wrote Ben Smith, the Sac County attorney who prosecuted John David Green.
Smith, who currently is deployed to Kosovo with the Iowa Army National Guard, penned a letter of support for Green’s second-degree murder conviction to be set aside in favor of three lesser felony charges. That deal has been criticized by an assistant state attorney general who helped prosecute Green and by the defense attorney who represented Green when he was found guilty of murder by a jury in 2015.
Green has admitted he choked his friend Mark Koster to death in June 2009 during an argument, but that Koster had started the fight by attacking him first with a baseball bat.
Green was 49 at the time and much larger than Koster, who was 58. Green concealed Koster’s body in the basement of Koster’s house underneath cat litter and other items and left a note to make it appear Koster had left town. A Carroll man discovered the mummified body about three years later after he bought the house and was cleaning it.
Sac City police officers arrested Green in 2014 in Florida and charged him with first-degree murder.
Green declined a plea deal before his trial that would have made him eligible for release from prison in less than five years. Instead, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder, which carried a minimum sentence of 35 years in prison. Green was 55 when he was sentenced.
“Had (Green) accepted the plea offer in 2014, he likely would have been paroled two years ago,” Smith wrote in his letter last week. “There are some who have expressed displeasure with this arrangement because the defendant ‘rolled the dice.’ I disagree that a defendant’s right to justice is permanently forfeit when he elects to go to trial.”
Green challenged his conviction and last week was, in effect, allowed to take the deal he declined before trial.
Green pleaded guilty on Friday to voluntary manslaughter, willful injury and burglary. Combined, they are punishable by up to 30 years in prison, but Green is eligible for parole immediately because he already has been confined to jail and prison for a total of more than seven years.
However, the plea agreement says Green, who is now 61, will not apply for parole for another three years.
The new deal was criticized by a prosecutor and Green’s original defense attorney because it was based on the allegation that the original plea agreement “was not adequately explained to Mr. Green,” according to court records.
The original deal was discussed at length during a pre-trial court hearing in October 14 — in which Green reiterated his desire to go to trial — but it’s unclear whether Green’s original attorney urged him to take the deal, because conversations between attorneys and their clients are protected as private by law.
In Friday’s court hearing, Green said Koster was “one of my best friends, and I’m truly sorry.”
“This was a fight between friends that turned tragic,” Smith wrote in his letter. “This is, I believe, a genuinely remorseful defendant. I do not believe a de facto life sentence for a man of the defendant’s age is the right outcome here.”