When Mallory Weiser began her internship with the Polk County Attorney’s Office, she had no idea she would end up on national television.
Weiser, a third-year Drake University Law School student from Urbandale, Iowa, assisted prosecutors in a first-degree murder case and sat at the counsel table during the trial. The case was recently spotlighted on Dateline NBC, in an episode titled “The Shadow.”
“When I was starting to work on the case, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is crazy. There are so many pieces to the story,’” Weiser says. “But I had no idea Dateline would feature it.”
In May 2014, 30-year-old Justin Michael was shot to death in his bed in Grimes, Iowa, while his fiancée, Angie Ver Huel, slept beside him. The culprit escaped before the police arrived.
However, a single-vehicle accident six miles away from the scene of the crime that same night aroused suspicion toward the driver, David Moffitt. As detectives found more evidence that pointed to Moffitt, they discovered he was an ex-boyfriend of Ver Huel and had also worked with Michael at Wells Fargo.
Moffitt was ultimately arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
In January, Weiser started assisting with the case. Working with Steve Foritano, Bureau Chief of the General Trial Bureau, and Bret Lucas, assistant county attorney, she organized and documented evidence, reviewed search warrants, attended meetings with detectives, witnesses, and family members, and read through notes and interviews. She also helped with jury selection.
“I had just taken Criminal Procedure [at Drake], so I could apply a lot of that to what was going on in the case,” Weiser says. “It was so interesting to see the importance of each step and each piece of evidence. It was like a giant puzzle.”
The trial started in June. Weiser sat at the counsel table with Foritano and Lucas, taking notes on everything that was said and done, keeping a list of questions for the prosecutors, and reminding them to bring up certain facts or evidence.
“It was a learning experience for me – what to do and what not to do, and how to speak to the jury about something as delicate as a human life being taken,” she explains.
Moffitt plead not guilty by reason of insanity. The defense claimed mental illness and side effects from a medication caused him to commit the crime and said he didn't know the difference between right and wrong.
However, the prosecutors said Moffitt knew what he was doing when he shot Michael, pointing to the fact that Moffitt bought a gun, researched how to get away with murder on his computer, and even tried to frame another ex-boyfriend of Ver Huel for the crime.
On July 1, the jury reached a decision: Moffitt was found guilty of first-degree murder. The conviction comes with a mandatory life sentence in the state of Iowa.
Weiser says she was emotional when she heard the verdict.
“It was an overwhelming feeling,” she says. “It was satisfying and empowering to know I was helping the family heal a little bit. We can’t fix it, we can’t bring [Michael] back, but we can do something about it. You want people to be punished for their actions.”
When Dateline approached the attorneys and family about featuring their story, they agreed.
“We wanted a positive spin on this,” Weiser explains. “We thought it could be a good tribute to him. Obviously, it wasn’t easy for the family to do. But they got justice, and I think that’s an important thing to show people.”
During the two-hour episode, which aired on Sept. 11, both Foritano and Lucas were interviewed by Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison. Clips from the trial showed Weiser sitting between them at the counsel table.
Weiser says she watched the first half of the show with Foritano, Lucas, and other attorneys, and then went home to watch the second half with her parents.
“It was really exciting. I was telling everyone I knew about it,” she says.
Weiser attributes her experience working on the case to being a Drake law student. As the only law school in Des Moines, Drake provides countless internship and externship opportunities for students.
“How many interns can say they got to sit at a counsel table at a murder trial? Not many,” she says. “It’s a perk of being in Polk County and in the capital city. I was able to do the internship during the school year and continue it in the summer. If I didn’t go to Drake, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.”
As she prepares to graduate next May, Weiser says the internship solidified her decision to become a prosecutor.
“With something as important as a life being taken, I really got to feel a sense of justice that I hadn’t felt before,” Weiser says. “It was a great experience and definitely exceeded my expectations.”