At sentencing, family of slain trooper calls for convicted killer Michael Lang to repent

·5 min read

GRUNDY CENTER — Dozens of mournful Iowa State Troopers flanked the gallery of the district court here Monday as the case against a revered colleague's killer came to a close.

Joined in the courtroom by Iowa Department of Public Safety agents, sheriff's deputies and police officers, they served as silent witnesses at the sentencing of Michael Lang, 42, of Grundy Center in the April 9, 2021, fatal shooting of state patrol Sgt. Jim Smith during a standoff at Lang's home.

More: Fallen State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith eulogized as a man of integrity, faith and goofy humor

District Court Judge Joel Dalrymple ordered Lang to serve a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole on the first-degree murder conviction.

Zander Smith speaks from the witness stand during Michael Lang's sentencing hearing at the Grundy County Courthouse in Grundy Center.
Zander Smith speaks from the witness stand during Michael Lang's sentencing hearing at the Grundy County Courthouse in Grundy Center.

Speaking at the hearing, Smith's 20-year-old son Zander, told of his pain at losing his father and "best buddy."

"At the trial I hoped to see a sliver of remorse, but I saw none," he said in a clear voice.

Then, speaking of his and his father's deep Christian faith, he urged Lang to "quit pursuing evil."

"I am trying to learn how to forgive you," he said. "But I know that if you repent God will forgive you in an instant."

Sgt. Jim Smith was a 27-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol. He was shot during a standoff with a suspect in Grundy Center, Iowa, on April 9, 2021, and later pronounced dead.
Sgt. Jim Smith was a 27-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol. He was shot during a standoff with a suspect in Grundy Center, Iowa, on April 9, 2021, and later pronounced dead.

Judge rejects appeals, approves longest possible sentence

A jury convicted Lang in a May trial that was moved from Grundy Center  to Webster City, a hour away, because of widespread publicity about the case.

In addition to the murder count, Dalrymple sentenced Lang to 25 years for attempted murder of a peace officer and five years for assault on a peace officer with intent to commit injury, to be served consecutively.

In adding 30 years to the sentence, something he conceded had little practical impact, Dalrymple said he was applying his discretion to give Lang the harshest sentence available.

More: Iowa State Patrol shares letter, drawing of slain trooper by Special Olympics athlete

"You demonstrated evil and malicious intent and you did that with every victim," he said, going on the describe how Lang had laughed and joked over Smith's body while holding law enforcement officers at bay.

Prior to conducting the sentencing hearing, Dalrymple issued a ruling rejecting defense attorney Aaron Hawbaker's request to set aside the verdict and hold a new trial.

Michael Lang awaits sentencing in the Grundy County Courthouse in Grundy Center.
Michael Lang awaits sentencing in the Grundy County Courthouse in Grundy Center.

Hawbaker argued that Dalrymple should have allowed Lang to pursue a self-defense claim and that the evidence in the trial was not strong enough to support a conviction.

Dalrymple, in rejecting both claims, said Lang's team had never presented sufficient evidence to justify consideration of a self-defense claim and that the evidence at trial had proven the case beyond any reasonable doubt.

"It's the court's position that this isn't even a close call," Dalrymple said from the bench.

What Lang was convicted of doing

More: Fallen State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith eulogized as a man of integrity, faith and goofy humor

Smith's death came on April 9, 2021, as he led a team of officers into Lang's home in an attempt to arrest him. Lang had barricaded himself there after fleeing, then assaulting, a police officer who tried to stop him for speeding.

As Smith entered Lang's kitchen through the home's garage, Lang opened fire with a shotgun, fatally wounding him, according to testimony by other officers in the trial. After negotiating with a defiant Lang, troopers in an armored vehicle breached the home, exchanging fire with Lang.

Lang was severely wounded and arrested, but — according to trial testimony — not before firing a shot that hit the windshield of the armored vehicle, potentially endangering the life of the driver.

Smith, who lived in Independence and was stationed in Oelwein, was only the second trooper in the history of the Iowa State Patrol to die of gunfire in the line of duty. His a fellow Oelwein Trooper Ted Benda's names were added to the state Peace Officer Memorial near the Iowa Capitol in May. Benda died a few months after Smith of injuries suffered when his cruiser crashed while he was en route to assist Clayton County sheriff's deputies.

Previously: Two state troopers’ names to be added Friday to the Peace Officer Memorial

Zander Smith was one of five family members who made statements before Dalrymple pronounced sentence.

Four spoke in court, while a fifth —  Jim Smith's mother Mary Smith Akin — had her written statement read aloud on her behalf.

Each, strikingly, described Smith as their best friend.

Daughter Jazlyn, 18, recalled a conversation with her father — who had lost his own father as a young man.

"He told us, 'I would trade all of our possessions for one more day with my dad,'" she said. "I didn't understand it. But now I do."

Kathy Smith speaks from the witness stand during Michael Lang's sentencing hearing at the Grundy County Courthouse in Grundy Center.
Kathy Smith speaks from the witness stand during Michael Lang's sentencing hearing at the Grundy County Courthouse in Grundy Center.

Smith's widow, Kathy, in her testimony, recalled how she felt after learning of the death of her husband.

"A sudden wave of numbness and terror rushed in," she said. "It had to be a nightmare. I just couldn't wake up. I never experienced grief so deep before.

"How can I live without my husband?" she asked.

"I don't blame God for what happened. I only blame this man," she said of Lang, adding, "Even though I am not ready to forgive this man ... It doesn't mean God won't forgive him if he truly repents. This is between him and God."

In addition to his criminal sentence, Dalrymple ordered Lang to pay $150,000 in restitution to Smith's family — a mandatory but generally symbolic penalty called for  in Iowa law.

Daniel Lathrop is a staff writer on the Register's investigative team. Reach him at (319) 244-8873 or dlathrop@dmreg.com. Follow him at @lathropd on Twitter and at facebook.com/IowaGadfly.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Michael Lang gets life in prison for killing of ISP Sgt. Jim Smith