Danker pleads not guilty, retains private counsel

First degree murder trial likely to move to Johnson County

Huston William Danker booking photo.

TOLEDO – In a written arraignment filed last week, Shellsburg resident Huston William Danker entered a plea of not guilty to first degree murder in connection with the 2021 death of rural Traer resident Ryan Cooper.

Back on April 29, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the Tama County Sheriff’s Office arrested Danker, 26, in Cedar Rapids. He was charged later that day in Tama County with first degree murder, a Class A felony, for acting “in concert with Karina Cooper to kill Ryan Cooper,” according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.

Ryan Cooper, 42, was killed at his home southwest of Traer on the morning of June 18, 2021, as a result of two gunshot wounds to the face. At the time of his death, he was married to Karina Cooper, now 47, who has also been charged with first degree murder in her husband’s death and remains in the Tama County Jail on a $1 million bond.

Karina Cooper’s 10-day trial is currently scheduled to begin July 9, 2024, in Linn County. She has pleaded not guilty to the single charge of first degree murder.

Danker filed a written arraignment and a plea of not guilty to the charge against him in Tama County District Court on May 16. He also waived his right to a speedy trial.

Despite previously filing a financial affidavit for appointment of counsel – which was granted – Danker retained private counsel on May 9.

As part of Danker’s financial affidavit, he stated that at the time of his arrest he was employed by Nolan Farms and had a gross annual salary of $80,000 while supporting a family of three as the sole wage earner. According to online real estate records, Danker purchased a single-family home located on Eagle Court in Shellsburg near Wildcat Golf Course for $399,900 on April 17 of this year. His financial affidavit indicates he has a $3,200 monthly mortgage payment.

Danker retained longtime Iowa City attorney Leon F. Spies to represent him. Spies is well known across the state of Iowa as a criminal defense attorney willing and able to take on high profile cases. In a profile by the Cedar Rapids Gazette published in 2015, the newspaper described Spies as an attorney who represents “people charged with heinous crimes.”

During a trial scheduling conference held by telephone on Tuesday of this week, Spies and Assistant Attorney General Michael Ringle discussed possible trial dates for Danker’s case along with Chief Judge Lars G. Anderson.

While both Spies and the State agreed a 10 day trial would be sufficient, no start date was set.

“You can anticipate a motion for change of venue,” Spies told Judge Anderson to which Ringle said the State would not resist.

Spies also said that due to Karina Cooper’s trial being moved to Linn County, he felt “it doesn’t make sense” to try his client in Linn County.

The conference ended with Judge Anderson deciding to hold off on setting an order for a trial in Tama County in Danker’s case until the end of the week in hopes that Spies and the State could come to an agreement on setting the trial for Johnson County in December of 2024 – but no earlier than Dec. 10.

Danker currently remains in the Tama County Jail on a $1 million cash or surety bond.