This story has been updated from its original posted version to reflect federal sentencing on one count of a felon in possession of a firearm.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A Burlington man who was being held in Muscatine County Jail on federal gun charges has been arrested on a first-degree murder charge out of Lee County and has been transferred to the Lee County Jail.
Joseph Mayorga, Jr., 35, Burlington was transported to Lee County on Thursday and charges were filed Friday with the Lee County Attorney’s office. Lee County Assistant Attorney Bruce McDonald will be handling the case. Mayorga is charged in the shooting death of James Merlin Nelson on or about Feb. 11, 2017. Nelson’s body was discovered at the Indian Path Park on the north side of Hwy 61 along the Skunk River, just past the Des Moines/Lee county Line.
According to an official with the Muscatine County Jail, Mayorga was being held in custody there by the U.S. Marshal’s office on a federal charge. According to federal court records, Mayorga was sentenced on Thursday to 8.5 years in prison and an additional three years supervised release on one count of unlawful transportation of firearms – felon in possession of a firearm.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said Mayorga was taken into custody about one week after the murder and has been in custody since that time so the investigation could run its course.
On February 11, 2017 the Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of a possible deceased person at a Lee County roadside park near Wever, Iowa.
Upon arrival, a male subject later identified as 47-year-old Nelson, was found deceased. An autopsy performed on Nelson determined that he was killed by a single gunshot to the head. According to Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations Special Agent Rick Rahn, since the body was discovered in Lee County, the court case would be handled there, however Mayorga has the option to ask for a change of venue.
Detectives from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office-Criminal Investigations Division and Special Agents of the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS), and DCI launched an investigation at the scene and said the investigation took investigators to several jurisdictions. Early into the investigation, Mayorga became a suspect.
On Friday, charges were filed by Lee County Detective Chad Donaldson on Mayorga for Murder in the First Degree, a Class A Felony. If convicted, Murder in the First Degree carries a mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Agencies who assisted in this investigation include Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS), Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), Des Moines County Sheriff’s Office, Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa State Patrol, Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office, Southeast Iowa Narcotics Task Force, Burlington Police Department, Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Fairfield Police Department, Iowa DNR, Intel Bureau, University of Iowa Decedent Care Center, and the Lee, Des Moines, Henry and Jefferson County Attorney’s Offices.