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Chavez avoids trial, takes plea deal

Damion Chavez

A Fort Dodge man who spent nearly two years in jail awaiting a jury trial on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder on Tuesday morning, less than an hour before jury selection was to begin at the Webster County Courthouse.

Damion Lamont Chavez, 21, was charged with first-degree murder, a Class A felony, and first-degree robbery, a Class B felony, for the shooting death of 28-year-old Mohammed Yaqoub.

Yaqoub was killed around 8 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2019, during what police have called a drug deal gone wrong, in the parking lot behind Tom Thumb Drive In. Chavez was 19 at the time.

According to court documents, Chavez and another Fort Dodge teen, Tate Martinson, who was then 17, met Yaqoub ostensibly to purchase a pound of marijuana worth $2,000 from the victim. The two went into the transaction without any cash, intending to steal the pot, records show.

When Fort Dodge police responded to the shooting, they found Yaqoub in the passenger seat of a Chevrolet Impala. He was pronounced dead after resuscitation efforts.

Police found multiple holes in the passenger seat’s headrest, where Yaqoub sat, “which were consistent with bullet entries and two gunshot wounds to Yaqoub’s chest,” an initial criminal complaint said.

Martinson was arrested a short time later, and eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison. As a juvenile at the time of the offense, Martinson was not subject to mandatory minimum sentences. He is currently serving his sentence at the Clarinda Correctional Facility.

Chavez fled the state, but was arrested two days after the shooting. He was apprehended in Lowndes County, Georgia, after a traffic stop on Interstate 17, several miles north of the Florida border.

Chavez was set to go to trial this week, with jury selection on Tuesday and opening statements and witness testimony expected to fill much of the remainder of the week. However, in a hearing scheduled an hour before jury selection, to discuss certain matters in preparation for the trial, Chavez accepted a plea agreement offered by the Webster County Attorney’s Office.

Under the plea agreement, the state amended the first-degree murder charge to one count of second-degree murder, a Class B felony, and dismissed the first-degree robbery charge, while Chavez pleaded guilty to the count of second-degree murder.

A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life prison sentence without the possiblity of parole, while a second-degree murder conviction carries a 50-year maximum prison sentence with a minimum time served of 70% before the individual can be considered for parole.

“Though the state was prepared to proceed to jury trial, we believe the goals of the criminal justice system are met with this resolution,” said First Assistant Webster County Attorney Ryan Baldridge. “The defendant is being held accountable and, once sentenced, will be off the streets for a significant period of time.”

During a plea hearing on Tuesday morning, Chavez explained in his own words how his actions resulted in Yaqoub’s death.

“On Oct. 11, 2019, I set out to rob the victim and after I pulled out my gun, I pulled the trigger with my intent to injure him,” Chavez told District Court Judge Angela Doyle.

Doyle accepted Chavez’s guilty plea and a short while later, released the dozens of potential jurors who had arrived at the courthouse that morning.

Chavez will be sentenced on Aug. 25. In addition to spending a minimum of 35 years in prison, he will also have to pay $150,000 in victim restitution to Yaqoub’s next of kin, and possibly other forms of restitution as well.

“Most importantly, justice has been obtained for the family of Mohammed Yaqoub for his senseless and tragic death,” Baldridge said. “Though Mr. Yaqoub was involved in illicit activity at the time of this death, his acts were non-violent and in no way warranted Chavez’s fatal response.”

Chavez will remain at the Webster County Jail without bond until his sentencing next month.

“As the oldest pending homicide case in the local court docket, our office is pleased to have achieved the outcome we did, not only in this case, but in other recent trials,” Baldridge said. “As always, without the diligent work by members of the local law enforcement community and assistance from authorities in Lowndes County, Georgia, this outcome might not have been realized.”

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