Jury convicts Shivers of Cox, Cunningham murders

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Sarah Lessmeier, longtime partner of the late Tyrone Cunningham, reacts to the verdict convicting Michael J. Shivers of second degree murder for the deaths of Cunningham and Jamael Cox. The jury rendered its verdict on Wednesday afternoon.

Over a year after her husband’s tragic death, Savena Cox feels like she can breathe again.

On Wednesday, a Webster County jury found Michael J. Shivers, 56, of Eagle Grove, guilty of two counts of second-degree murder for the June 2020 shooting deaths of 25-year-old Jamael Cox and 47-year-old Tyrone Cunningham.

The two men, both of Fort Dodge, were killed when they were struck by gunshots during what was described as a “volley of bullets” in the 900 block of 10th Avenue Southwest around 4:45 a.m. on June 16, 2020.

Jamael and Savena Cox were just about to celebrate their third wedding anniversary when Jamael was shot.

“I feel like I can finally start healing,” Savena Cox said after the verdict was read. “I don’t feel weighed down anymore.”

It took the jury approximately five hours between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday to reach its verdict.

Sarah Lessmeier, who was Cunningham’s longtime partner, felt mixed emotions after the verdict was read — grief over losing Cunningham and gratitude toward the prosecutors and the jury for holding Shivers responsible.

“It doesn’t change the fact that (Tyrone’s) not here to celebrate, but I’m very grateful for the outcome,” she said. “Justice is served and the jury has spoken. He’s guilty.”

Alexis Lessmeier, daughter of Cunningham and Sarah Lessmeier, said she felt relief upon hearing the guilty verdict.

“My dad and Jamael can finally fully rest in peace,” Alexis Lessmeier said.

First Assistant Webster County Attorney Ryan Baldridge also expressed his appreciation for the jury that sat through four days of testimony and a day of arguments for the case.

“I know this was a difficult case to listen to and see the evidence in and we sincerely appreciate their time and consideration in doing so,” Baldridge said. “From the onset, we were certain the defendant fired the shots that resulted in Tyrone and Jamael’s deaths.”

Shivers’ sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 13. He is facing up to 50 years for each count, with a mandatory minimum of 70% of time served for both.

Defense attorney Christopher Kragnes indicated he anticipates filing a motion for a new trial prior to the sentencing.

During the trial, Baldridge and Assistant State Attorney General Doug Hammerand presented a case to the jury that argued that Shivers fired a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle toward another man, triggering a domino effect of others pulling out firearms and shooting. Shivers, along with many friends and family, had been gathered at the residence of DarTonya Shivers to celebrate the life of a sister who recently passed.

Witnesses Cierra Shivers and Jeremiha Hatten testified that Isiah Mosley came by the party for a short time, after which the atmosphere became “tense” and “eerie.”

The state argued that eventually, Michael Shivers became impatient waiting for something to happen and decided to act by shooting the Bushmaster rifle at Mosley, who by this time was across the street near the H.C. Meriwether Park, east of the residence.

Hatten and Michael Wells, a son of the defendant, both testified they saw Michael Shivers fire the first shot and that he was firing the Bushmaster. After the first shot, others in the group — including Hatten and Wells — began to shoot as well.

Jamael Cox and Cunningham, who were not involved with what was happening between Michael Shivers and Mosley, were both caught in the crossfire and died as a result. Two other women, Marissa Andrews, of Fort Dodge, and Jayne Barton, of Wesley, were wounded in the shooting but survived.

The defense had tried to argue that Michael Shivers had been acting in self-defense that night and that Mosley or another person shot first, but was unsuccessful.


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