'A bizarre case': Defense, prosecution give closing statements in trial for Xavier Shepley’s killing

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Judge Angela Doyle of Ames prepped a jury spread across a Story County courtroom wearing face shields — imagery of a vastly different time than that of Xavier Jordan Shepley’s murder in 2017. 

Due to COVID-19, Shepley’s mother, Jenny, had to wait outside the courtroom during Friday’s proceedings, hoping there will be justice for her son. 

This jury, which heard closing arguments Friday morning, must decide if Jordan Nicole Bryant, 27, “made all contact” orchestrating the fatal robbery, as the prosecution argues, or if she was at Shepley’s apartment only to solicit prostitution at the time of the crime.

The defense and prosecution wrapped up their closing arguments and the jury entered deliberations Friday afternoon. 

“This is a bizarre case. This is an intensely contradictory case,” Bryant’s attorney Mark Weinhardt said to the jury.

More:Opening statements in Ames murder trial reveal verdict may hinge on cellphone records

Bryant, charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery, is one of four to stand trial in connection to the murder. A jury found Anthony English guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in September. 

Demario Woods pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, second-degree robbery and first-degree burglary last June. Albrea Winfrey, who faces the same charges as Bryant, will stand trial June 29.

While English was found to have fired the fatal shot, the state argued Bryant organized the armed robbery, arranging a social meet-up with Shepley at his apartment beforehand. 

At the center of the evidence are a cellphone and a Snapchat account. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Prosser argued it belonged to Bryant, while Weinhardt argued not all correspondence can be attributed to her.

More:Des Moines man sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2017 Ames homicide

Weinhardt said Bryant was a woman who led a difficult life, needing to turn to prostitution to make money and being in a relationship with English that showed signs of abuse.

“But she has a core of kindness and compassion,” Weinhardt said, evidenced by her friend trusting her with her three children for a month when sorting out a family tragedy out of state. 

During his rebuttal, Prosser said an abusive relationship does not mean Bryant is innocent. 

“She knew people would get hurt if they did not comply,” Prosser said. 

Seeing a Snapchat story of Shepley holding wads of cash sparked the idea in Bryant’s mind to rob him, Prosser argued, bringing in English, Winfrey and Woods. 

One text from the phone the state connected to Bryant asks Shepley about the post, Prosser said.

Bryant and Winfrey entered Shepley’s apartment first to intoxicate the victim and signal when English and Woods could enter and start the confrontation, Prosser said. Weinhardt said there is no proof that Bryant knew of the robbery prior or that it would be armed. 

The defense argued the meet-up was for prostitution or dancing for money, but Prosser said texts from Shepley such as “Let’s get to know each other,” indicate that was not the case. 

“Not putting her down for that. That’s not important,” Prosser said. “This ain’t that.”

Weinhardt says Bryant was not a part of the same tight-knit Des Moines community as the other three, and text messages show they were concerned Bryant was considered the “weak link.”

Winfrey told police, “me and Jordan ain’t even friends like that,” Weinhardt said. 

“It’s not a foursome,” Weinhardt said. “It’s three plus one.”

Though the prosecution said evidence connected the phone to Bryant, Weinhardt said a change in tone in the messages and witness testimony that Winfrey was the only one on a phone at the apartment shows Bryant was not using it the night of the murder. 

“We are not going to run away from the fact that Jordan used that phone,” Weinhardt said. 

This phone was used to contact Shepley, as well as a Snapchat account, Dimpless2000, which was connected to an email believed to be Bryant’s and a screenshot, as well as the defendant having dimples, Prosser argued.

This phone and this Snapchat account alone were used to set up the crime, Prosser said, arguing its connection to Bryant proves her guilt. Weinhardt argued Bryant may have “gotten with the wrong people” but is not guilty of this crime. 

“Jordan Bryant has not lived a great life,” Weinhardt said. “She’s been dominated. She’s been pushed around. She’s been manipulated. She spent a lot of her life alone.”