Iowa prosecutors say they plan to try a man who’s in court this week in Nebraska, accused in the slayings of a woman in Iowa and a man on the Nebraska side of the border on the same night last spring. 48-year-old Michael Gunther worked for a carnival owned by an Iowa woman — a traveling show that was set up and performing in Bellevue, just south of Omaha at that time. John Jacobmeier, the Chief Pottawatamie County Attorney, says the defendant also had a relationship with his employer. The victim had a trailer parked at the Bluffs Run Casino the night of May 23, and prosecutors are alleging that Gunther had an altercation with the woman, Sally Kennedy, and killed her there. Jacobmeier says they’re alleging that Gunther then took guns from the RV, went to Nebraska, and shot a man with those guns at the carnival’s location in a housing unit near Offut Air Force Base. Jacobmeier says all 3 were involved in the carnival and had a personal relationship with each other, though as time went by, he says “it kinda went downhill.” Witnesses say Gunther shot and killed 36-year-old Michael Zawodney as he worked at the carnival in Bellevue that night of May 23, 2004. Gunther’s on trial in Nebraska’s Sarpy County, and yesterday (Thursday) another carnival worker and an off-duty military MP testified they saw Gunther shoot Zawodney several times that night. Earlier this week, Gunther told the judge in his courtroom that he wants to be put to death for his crime, but although Nebraska has the death penalty, the Iowa prosecutor says he won’t get it. The case was filed without “aggravated circumstances” that might justify the death penalty. Jacobmeier says in Iowa, “our life is life,” and a sentence can be handed down with no chance for parole so (if convicted) he’d die in prison in Iowa. That’s why the Pottawatamie County attorney’s office says no matter what the outcome of the Sarpy County trial, they’re filing paperwork now to try Gunther in Iowa, too. Jacobmeier says they’re waiting for the Nebraska trial to finish and his office plans to hold a trial within 90 days after Gunther’s brought back to Iowa. It was a bizarre case and included false leads — carnival owner Salle Kennedy was divorced but she and her ex-husband jointly managed the traveling carnival, and the day before her slaying, he’d been found dead of an apparent heart attack. Authorities took a closer look, but finally determined that his death was from natural causes, and not connected to the slayings a couple of days later.
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