Court upholds Iowa man's civil judgment in mother's death

·3 min read

DES MOINES, Iowa — There was enough evidence for a jury to conclude in a wrongful death lawsuit that an Iowa man shot and killed his mother, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, leaving in place the jury's $10 million award even though the man was eventually acquitted on criminal charges in her death.

The court denied Jason Carter's appeal of the civil judgment, in which a jury found him responsible for the June 2015 shooting of his mother, Shirley Carter, at her home near Knoxville.

Jason Carter, of Knoxville, and his father, Bill Carter, have been locked in legal disputes since Shirley Carter's death.

Bill Carter filed the lawsuit on behalf of his late wife's estate and another son, Billy Dean Carter, in 2016. A jury found Jason Carter liable and awarded a $10 million judgment to be paid to his father and mother's estate.

Jason Carter was charged with first-degree murder in his mother's death, but a jury acquitted him in March 2019.

In his appeal of the civil judgment, Jason Carter claimed the judge had wrongly denied his motions to delay the civil trial, saying it should have been postponed because authorities were still investigating his mother's death and hadn't charged him yet. But the high court concluded in a decision written by Chief Justice Susan Christensen that “there is no rule requiring trial courts to stay civil proceedings until criminal proceedings conclude.”

Carter also disputed the civil trial judge's decisions on subpoenas and motions to set aside the jury verdict. His motions were based in part on evidence that had surfaced in which witnesses claimed the shooting was a botched attempt by other people to steal prescription medication from Shirley and Bill Carters' home. Jason Carter claimed such evidence may have helped him cast doubt on his liability in the civil case.

"We conclude that when viewing the evidence in the light most favourable to the plaintiffs, a reasonable mind could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that Jason intentionally shot his mother," Christensen wrote.

Jason Carter's lawyer, Alison Kanne, said she and her client disagree with the court's decision and “we remain satisfied with the fact that Jason Carter was conclusively deemed not guilty by a jury of his peers who had all of the information in front of them, which is something the civil jury did not have."

Bill Carter's lawyer, Mark Weinhardt, said his client feels as if he's had a great weight lifted off his shoulders with the court's decision to uphold the civil verdict and reject Jason Carter's claims that someone else killed his mother in a botched robbery.

“It is time he stops fighting in the courts and pays something — anything — against the $10 million judgment he owes,” Weinhardt said. “Today’s ruling reflects the truth. It is, at long last, some measure of justice for the memory of Shirley Carter.”

Jason Carter has filed a federal lawsuit against his father, an agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Marion County and a county deputy sheriff. Judge Charles Wolle dismissed the case in August, but Carter appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He also is pursuing a similar lawsuit in state court that a judge put on hold pending the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that was issued Friday.

David Pitt, The Associated Press