Was Shirley Carter’s murder properly investigated?

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Shirley Carter (photo from iowacoldcases.org)

In a 49-page petition filed by Jason Carter’s attorneys on March 23, there are many accusations against Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations Agent Mark Ludwick that call into question the integrity of the original murder investigation of Jason’s mother, Shirley Carter.

Shirley Carter was found dead from a gunshot wound in her home on June 19, 2015, in rural Marion County. The case was investigated by DCI and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Ludwick was the lead investigator on the case.

There were no charges filed in her murder until Dec. 18, 2017. That was three days after a Marion County civil jury ruled that Jason Carter was responsible for Shirley Carter’s death. Jason Carter was ordered to pay his father, Bill Carter, and the estate $10 million as part of the civil judgment, which arrived Dec. 15, 2017. Bill Carter, Jason’s siblings, and the estate filed the civil lawsuit on Jan. 6, 2016.

The civil verdict was delivered Dec. 15, 2017. Jason Carter was charged with first-degree murder shortly after. Authorities said it was because new information came to light during the civil trial that provided enough evidence to criminally charge him.

Jason Carter’s criminal trial was moved to Pottawatamie County because of pretrial publicity. That jury acquitted Jason Carter on March 22, 2019. While awaiting trial, Jason Carter had petitioned the court for relief from paying the civil judgement, which was denied.

However, Jason Carter’s attorneys believe that, had there been access to the evidence law enforcement was collecting in the murder investigation before the civil trial, the civil case would have had a different verdict.

“After the petition for relief was heard in December 2018, Jason continued to receive additional exculpatory evidence, evidence showing law enforcement’s failure to reasonably investigate this homicide,” the new petition reads. Jason Carter’s attorneys allege bias against Jason from the onset. “Before even arriving on the homicide scene, Agent Ludwick was focused on Jason Carter.”

When a defense team prepares for a criminal trial, they are entitled to review all of the evidence the prosecution has in its possession to present to a jury. Evidence collected through the years between Shirley’s murder and Jason’s criminal trial was turned over to Jason’s attorneys. This evidence leads Jason’s attorneys to believe the investigation was not done properly.

“During the investigation, Agent Ludwick’s actions and statements indicate he ignored information leading to other suspects and intimidated witnesses who attempted to provide information regarding other suspects,” the petition reads.

The list of alleged wrong doings of Ludwick during the investigation continued to include allegations of director other law enforcement officers to ignore evidence and stop interviewing potential witnesses. He is further accused of removing an officer from the investigation when said officer differed on how the investigation should proceed.

The Tribune reached out to the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. We sought an interview with Agent Ludwick and comment on these allegations. Lynn Hicks, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, set this reply.

“We cannot discuss a pending case due to Iowa rules of professional conduct,” Hicks wrote. “We aren’t a party to the case you mention, and we deny any wrongdoing on the part of Agent Ludwick.”

There are accusations of missing evidence as well, including audio recordings. The petition indicates that Ludwick allegedly told defense team members that he was unable to find the files, but on Jan. 16, 2018, he wrote an email to a fellow DPS employee regarding the filed, “The missing audio files are causing me problems…I’m working on them but we might need to say ‘maintained by MCSO’ if I can’t get them to copy over.” Another pulled quote reads, “It’s easier this way and they have boxes of evidence anyway, so the few CDs won’t make a difference.”

March 1, 2019, the Friday before Jason’s criminal trial began, the defendant’s counsel went to the sheriff’s office to review evidence before it was transferred to Council Bluffs, according to the petition. There was physical evidence they had never previously seen, the petition reads further.

A pair of suspects, identified by witnesses and who have long criminal histories, were in the Marion County Jail for a great deal of time after the murder. Jason’s attorneys allege there was no effort made to review the recordings of the jail phone calls.

“Agent Ludwick became aware from (a witness) that (one of the suspects referred to above) allegedly confessed to the homicide over a specific jail phone call,” the petition reads. “Nothing indicates that even this jail call was requested, obtained, and/or preserved.”

Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Reed Kious allegedly told counsel that recordings no longer exist, and testified that there was nothing concerning about them.

Concerns exist regarding the amount of time that passed between law enforcement interviews of witnesses. Listed under “failures in investigation” are allegations that:

– A female witness was told the defense intended to prove she was involved in the homicide.
– Notes from a female witness were given to Ludwick, who lost them or hid them from Jason and his counsel.
– Law enforcement was aware of a second female witness in the fall of 2015, but not interviewed until November 2018.
– A female suspect was implicated by approximately 10 people, was interviewed once in 2015.
– Awareness of a third female witness was raised in January 2018, she was not interviewed until November 2018. Another female witness, of which law enforcement was aware in November 2015, called the law in April 2016. Interview was not recorded, nor a report submitted.
– A male was told by a fourth female told him to “get rid of a gun” given to him in fall 2015. The female was not interviewed until April 2018. This female is also one of the inferred suspect’s alibi that was established in October 2015. Years passed between law enforcement’s awareness of witnesses’ ties to the case and when they were interviewed for five more witnesses. One of them was also intimidated to believe he would be implicated by the defense as being involved in the homicide.

As a reminder, these are all allegations against Agent Ludwick, and law enforcement. None have been confirmed by the Marion County Tribune.

“Jason could not have discovered (this evidence) through due diligence in (the civil case against him) prior to the conclusion of the trial in December 2017 or the hearing on the petition for relief in December 2018,” the petition says. “This evidence lays new ground and overwhelmingly supports Jason’s assertion that he did not kills Shirley. The evidence points to suspects who either were not investigated or where investigated unreasonably and with bias against the material they were providing.”

The petition also includes statements that Agent Ludwick was sent a photo of Jason Carter being arrested, to which he allegedly replied he “might get it framed”. Ludwick is also accused of manipulating Bill Carter, and Bill Carter, Jr., into turning against Jason.

Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt is said to have disagreed with Agent Ludwick about the conclusion that Jason killed Shirley. Sandholdt was allegedly asked to step down from the investigation at that time, “because he did not see or believe that Jason Carter shot Shirley Carter.”

Sandholdt declined to comment on the validity of these claims.

“Asking a law enforcement officer (especially the top officer in the jurisdiction) to step down from a case because he questions the lead investigator’s theory of the homicide sends the message to every other law enforcement officer investigating the homicide they should support the lead investigator’s theory without question,” the petition reads.

Jason Carter has previously sought a new trial, and a new judge, to get the civil decision reversed. Both requests were denied. An appeal was filed the day after Judge Marti Mertz, who presided over the civil and criminal trials, declined to recuse herself.

IF the court chooses to deny this request for relief, Jason will again request a new trial. He has already filed suit against the criminal investigators in federal court.

No court date has been set, nor any further action taken on this petition as of April 1.