MONEY & BUSINESS: Iowa Teen Found Guilty of Fatally Shooting 2 Students
An Iowa teenager was found guilty on Thursday of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting deaths of two students in January at an educational program for at-risk youths.
The teenager, Preston Walls, 19, of Des Moines, fatally shot a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old who were part of the Starts Right Here program on Jan. 23, the authorities said. The police said at the time that Mr. Walls was a gang member and that the victims were members of an opposing gang.
Mr. Walls had been charged with first-degree murder for both killings, but jurors appeared to partially agree with Mr. Walls’s claim during trial that he had shot both teenagers because he feared for his life.
During the episode, Mr. Walls also shot William Holmes, 49, who founded Starts Right Here. In that shooting, the jury found Mr. Walls guilty of assault causing serious injury.
If Mr. Walls had been found guilty of first-degree murder, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison. He instead faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison with the possibility of parole.
Mr. Walls’s lawyer, Darren Page, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on Thursday. Kimberly Graham, the Polk County attorney whose office prosecuted the case, said in a statement that “we appreciate the jury’s service, and at the same time, we disagree with their assessment of the evidence.”
“Regardless of the verdicts, this has been and will always be a horrific tragedy,” she said. “We are heartbroken for our community, and we grieve with the families.”
When the judge read the verdict on Thursday, Mr. Walls stood, looked toward the crowd in the gallery and cried.
On the afternoon of Jan. 23, Mr. Walls walked into a common area at Starts Right Here, carrying a handgun with an extended ammunition magazine, the authorities said. Mr. Holmes tried to escort Mr. Walls out of the area before he began shooting, according to the authorities.
After shooting at the two teenagers and Mr. Holmes, Mr. Walls fled on foot, the police said.
Mr. Walls had said during his testimony in court that he had felt threatened by the two teenagers and “felt like they were going to kill me.”
“I was going to be in a situation where I could possibly die,” Mr. Walls said. “And I was scared. I acted out of fear. It was a reaction.”