• An Interview with Jerry Mark: True Story

    • Posted on Sep 18, 1994


    Jerry Mark graduated a year ahead of me at Cedar Falls High, but I knew him fairly well. And I liked him, as did everyone. There wasn't anything about him not to like, really.

    He was your classic good guy. An All-American clean-cut male, a class officer, a church-supporting, easy going, idealistic boy scout. The kind of guy who might first join the peace corps, then years later be asked to run it. An almost certain success. 

    Like everyone else who knew him, I was shocked to the core in 1975 to hear he had been arrested for the murders of his own brother Leslie, Leslie's wife Jorjean and their two little children while they slept in their beds.  I was especially stunned because it seemed so downright impossible. Surely they had made a mistake, I thought at the time.

    I followed the Mark trial closely, and watched in further disbelief as the evidence unfolded. Though there were no eyewitnesses, and the murder weapon--a .38 revolver--was never found, the investigators seemed to have uncovered enough circumstantial evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

    In fact, it seems that Jerry Mark had a dark, vengeful side; prosecutors showed that he planned the murders extremely carefully, and stood to inherit the considerable Mark family fortune with his brother's family out of the way.

    Moreover, if investigators hadn't been downright lucky in saving telephone records and finding where Mark bought the .38 cartridges in California (signing his own name for them) Mark might have gotten away with it.

    The jury deliberated just five hours, and Mark was convicted without ever taking the stand in his own defense. Of course he maintained his innocence then, as he does now.

    Some years after the trial, in 1980, I remained interested in the case, and began gathering material for a possible book. The first person I interviewed was Mark himself in the Iowa State Penitentiary in Ft. Madison.

    He looked haunted and troubled, as one might after a few years in prison, but wanted to talk at length about his trial. He was especially upset that his lawyer--former Iowa Attorney General Lawrence Scalise--wouldn't let him take the stand in his own defense.

    Again, I was wide-eyed with wonder. I asked Mark why in the world couldn't he testify in his own defense? Wasn't that a fundamental right? Surely he, as a lawyer, knew about his legal rights. (Mark has a law degree.)

    Mark explained, with considerable fire in his eye, that he kept trying to talk Scalise into letting him testify, but Scalise was adamant. And Mark didn't understand Scalise's reasons.

    I left the interview rather confused about why a defense lawyer wouldn't let a client testify in his own defense if the client wanted to. Especially when the client had plenty of legal training himself and knew the risks.

    So the day after I interviewed Mark, I went to Des Moines and interviewed Scalise himself, who also seemed quite willing to talk about the case.

    When I asked why he wouldn't let Mark testify in his own defense, Scalise's eyebrows raised and he smiled. "Is that what he told you?" he asked as he shook his head in disbelief. "I begged him to testify!"

    Scalise went on to explain that he told Mark several times that if he didn't testify, his case was probably lost. Scalise knew they didn't have much of a case without appealing to Jerry Mark's convincing good-guy personality.

    According to Scalise, Mark thought prosecutor David Dutton would crucify him on the stand, and that would finish his case for good. So he refused, and lied to me about Scalise not wanting him to testify.

    I asked Scalise the obvious question. "So, do you think Jerry Mark is guilty or not?"

    Being a lawyer, he wouldn't or couldn't answer that directly. But I vividly remember his reply: "Let's just say there are plenty of questions he couldn't answer."  That was Scalise's last word, and probably explains why neither Scalise nor John Sandre, Mark's other defense lawyer, continue to defend him today.

    I was left with plenty of questions myself. I continued to interview people, gather more material, and think about the case.   

    Now as I watch Jerry Mark on TV at his hearings in Waterloo for a new trial, I cannot believe such a good-seeming guy could have wiped out his own brother's family.

    But after reading the Mark trial transcripts and after interviewing him and his lawyer some years ago, I can only conclude: not all boy scouts can be trusted. Not all monsters look monstrous.

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