A 52-year-old Iowa man who allegedly shot and killed a neighbor in 2021 with a shotgun during a dispute over a repossessed lawnmower was sentenced to spend at least the next two decades in state prison.
Amber Marie Burton’s mother said at Nery Arnoldo Lopez Morales’ sentencing last Thursday that the motive for the killing, as she understood it, is among the dumbest she’s ever heard of, according to the Des Moines Register.
“I understand that Amber may have taken a lawnmower or some tool from you and yes it would make me angry and it would be wrong of her if that happened but this is one of the dumbest reasons , I’ve ever heard of shooting anybody,” Valerie Burton was quoted as saying of her only daughter, a 42-year-old mother of two who “worked long hours” to support her family and help others.
Morales was initially charged with first-degree murder after shooting Burton in the chest with a shotgun on September 12, 2021. Court documents said the victim had “repossessed” a lawn tractor she was selling; the defendant apparently still owed Burton money for the lawnmower.
“The emergency caller told dispatch that she could hear her neighbor screaming and described what to her sounded like a struggle that ensued. The 911 caller then told dispatch that the neighbor just suddenly stopped screaming. The 911 caller believed her neighbor was in trouble, the complaint said. “Officers were dispatched to the above address and found the victim deceased on the couch with obvious traumatic injury to the upper body.”
Surveillance video captured Morales’ red GMC pick-up truck pulling up to Burton’s residence before the killing, and witnesses identified the defendant as the person they saw at the scene.
“The defendant owns a red GMC pick-up truck quad cab with chrome wheels and a chrome tool box in the bed of the truck,” the complaint said.
The Polk County Attorney’s Office entered into a plea deal with the defendant in February on charges less than murder, but charges that would nonetheless put the 52-year-old defendant behind bars for at least 20 years. The charges to which Morales pleaded guilty are: voluntary manslaughter, first-degree burglary, intimidation with a dangerous weapon and assault while participating in a felony.
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District Judge Heather Lauber of Judicial District 5 accepted the plea.
“By direct conversation with the defendant on the record, the court finds that the defendant understands the charge(s), the criminal consequences and the rights that are being waived. The court finds, on the basis of the defendant’s statements, the prosecutor’s statements and the testimony protocol, that there is a factual basis for the plea and that the plea is knowing and voluntary. Defendant’s guilty plea is accepted,” the indictment from mid-February reads.
Last Thursday’s sentencing means Morales will not be eligible for parole until he serves the mandatory minimum of 20 years in state prison. By the time he’s up for parole, he’d be in his seventies. Morales was also ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution.
The family said Amber Burton, a nurse, “worked with the elderly” and “loved her patients.” She also enjoyed spending time with her children and family.
Read the complaint, plea and sentencing in the case.
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