On June 2, A&E’s Accused: Guilty or Innocent? will air the second episode of a two-part special on Jason Carter, who was accused of killing his mother, Shirley Carter. The show has explored some complex cases and shown viewers that a case isn’t always as straightforward as it seems by exploring the accused person’s side of the trial and defense.
This two-part special explores the murder of Shirley Carter, who was shot twice in her kitchen on June 19, 2015. Her son Jason Carter was accused of the murder, not only by the state of Iowa, but also by his father, sister and brother. The network devoted two episodes to exploring Jason’s trial and defense, but viewers may want to know more about the murder and subsequent investigation.
Here’s what you need to know about Shirley Carter’s death:
1. Shirley Carter Was Shot & Killed in Her Home in Marion County, Iowa, on June 19, 2015
Shirley Carter was shot and killed in the kitchen of her home in Lacona, located in rural Marion County, Iowa. The 68-year-old grandmother had been shot twice and was found in a pool of blood on the floor of the kitchen. Shirley’s husband Bill told investigators that the two had gone out for coffee that morning like they usually did, and afterward he dropped her off at home before heading out to haul some corn.
Bill was heading back home after when he got a call from his daughter, Jana Lain. She told him that Jason had called and told her he found their mother Shirley dead in the kitchen. Bill arrived at their farmhouse and found his wife of more than 50 years lying on the kitchen floor. He told the Des Moines Register, “It looked like she was sleeping. I kissed her.”
After calling his sister, Jason called 911, and officers arrived on the scene shortly after Bill. The murder investigation began then and involved multiple agencies, including the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, the Pella Police Department, the Knoxville Police Department, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, the Indianola Police Department and the Iowa State Patrol.
2. The Crime Scene Pointed to a Burglary, But the Investigation Didn’t Lead to Any Arrests
Iowa DCI Special Agent Mark Ludwick is back on the stand this morning, continuing his testimony regarding leads, tips and other people he interviewed outside of the Carter family about the death of Shirley Carter. #StateVsCarter @WHOhd pic.twitter.com/yaWbQOc9MS
— Laura Barczewski (@LcBarczewski) March 20, 2019
After the investigators arrived on scene, they found that the home had been ransacked. Drawers in the office and bedroom were pulled out and papers were strawn all around. Investigators noted that it didn’t appear that anything was missing, and Shirley’s purse was undisturbed with $140 and credit cards inside. They also found an envelope on the dresser which had $1,700 dollars inside.
The gun cabinet in the basement was missing a gun and it’s believed to be the murder weapon, although that’s never been confirmed and the gun was never found. A piece on the case in the Des Moines Register from 2016 states that law enforcement officials and prosecutors wouldn’t say if they had a suspect but were confident that the case would be solved. An arrest wasn’t made in the case for two-and-a-half years until Jason was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in December 2017.
3. Bill Carter Hired a Private Investigator & Filed a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against His Son Jason
In the year following his wife’s murder, Bill Carter was very outspoken about the investigation and his belief that his son was responsible. He accused law enforcement of not gathering the appropriate evidence, including Jason’s clothing and boots. He also suggested that there was a conflict of interest because the Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt was friends with Jason Carter.
He hired a private investigator and an attorney, Ron Danks, who told WHO-TV in 2016 that the evidence they found led the family to believe that Jason was responsible. “All of the evidence that we’re aware of, that we’ve gathered independently, all of the evidence that is public record from law enforcement, unfortunately, just points to one conclusion that Jason Carter killed his mom,” Danks told the network. “We had hoped never to file it, but the circumstances of this case have dictated that we have.”
On January 5, 2016, Bill and his two other children, Billy and Jana, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jason, accusing him of murdering Shirley. They listed a number of motives in the lawsuit, alleging that he was having financial difficulties and that the family wouldn’t support him financially if they found out about the affair he was having.
4. Jason Carter Was Found Responsible in Civil Court & Subsequently Arrested
The civil trial took place over several weeks in late 2017. In a civil case, the burden of proof is lower and the jury only needs to find that there is a 51% or greater chance of an offense taking place, as opposed to a criminal case, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. On December 15, 2017, a Marion County jury found Jason responsible for his mother’s murder and ordered him to pay $10 million to his mother’s estate.
Two days after the jury’s verdict in the civil case, Jason was arrested and charged with first-degree murder to face a criminal trial. Bill spoke about the verdict and Jason’s arrest at a press conference in December 2017. He said he still loved Jason but could not forgive him: “Do you know how hard that was for me to watch him be handcuffed and shackled? I watched him go into the sheriff’s office. That was hard for me. I went to my knees in their lot.”
5. Jason Was Found Not Guilty & Shirley’s Murder Remains Unsolved
Jason’s criminal trial took place over nearly three weeks in March 2019 in Pottawattamie County after the court moved it from Marion County to avoid pre-trial publicity. Jason’s lawyers argued that investigators failed to follow meaningful leads and pointed to the lack of evidence against Jason. The jury deliberated for just two hours before returning a “not guilty” verdict, allowing Jason to walk out of the courthouse a free man.
After the verdict was read, Jason spoke to the media and thanked his attorneys. He also had a message for law enforcement: “Bring the people who did this to justice,” he said. “Do your job.” On March 23, 2020, Jason and his attorneys filed a petition seeking damages and outlining what they say were failures in the investigation, Heavy has learned. They have also filed appeals and requests for a new civil trial.
Since Jason’s acquittal, the police have not made any more arrests. During the trial, the defense frequently brought up possible other suspects and they said the investigators failed to properly look into those other suspects. The case has since gone cold with no new information. Heavy reached out to the DCI and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to obtain more information about the case and where it stands today but they were unable to share any information due to the pending litigation.