Danker’s bond to remain at $1 million

State’s attorney describes murder plot as ‘product of months of planning’

Huston Willian Danker booking photo.

TOLEDO – Following a hearing held last Thursday, accused murderer Huston William Danker’s bond will remain at $1,000,000 as originally set as part of his arrest in late April.

On April 29, 2024, Danker, 26, was arrested in Cedar Rapids by the Tama County Sheriff’s Office and charged later that day with first degree murder for acting “in concert with Karina Cooper to kill Ryan Cooper.” Danker pleaded not guilty to the single Class A felony charge on May 16 while also waiving his right to a speedy trial.

Danker and Karina Cooper – who was charged in February with first degree murder and has also pleaded not guilty – are accused of murdering rural Traer resident Ryan Cooper, 42, who was discovered dead 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.

During the bond review hearing held in Tama County District Court by teleconference on Thursday, May 30, Chief Judge Lars G. Anderson had two competing motions to consider – one filed by the State to increase Danker’s bond to $5 million, and one filed by Danker to reduce his bond or release him on modified conditions including electronic monitoring and supervision by the Iowa Dept. of Corrections.

For the State, Assistant Attorney General Michael Ringle provided brief remarks in connection with the filing.

“I think it’s worth noting that [Danker’s] ties to the community at this point are obviously somewhat estranged … and I think that’s something that the court should consider in support of the State’s motion to increase bond,” Ringle said, before later adding, “As indicated in the minutes of testimony, what happened here is the product of months of planning. There was a plan that was in place to commit this crime. Part of this plan was to … obtain insurance proceeds in the amount of half a million dollars. And then there was a plan further to use that money to flee or leave this jurisdiction and to begin life anew in another state. With that information, I think it’s important that bond be increased from the current amount … to $5 million cash, surety or property.”

Ringle went on to say that if released, Danker would present a “grave risk to community safety.” Ringle also said Ryan Cooper’s murder was “not the product of heat of passion” but rather came about following extensive planning on the part of Danker and Karina Cooper.

“I think it is important for the court to recognize that there’s a belief that this defendant has access, potentially, to a large sum of cash that would allow him to flee the jurisdiction.”

Ringle ended his remarks by stating the $1 million bond was not sufficient to ensure community safety nor to ensure Danker would appear for his court dates.

As part of the State’s May 24 filing requesting an increase in Danker’s bond, Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren wrote that in addition to the danger Danker poses to others, “the risk of intimidation of witnesses and interference with the ongoing investigation has increased.”

Spies speaks

Defense Attorney Leon F. Spies of Iowa City spoke next on behalf of Danker who appeared by Zoom in custody from the Tama County Jail.

Similar to the reasoning Karina Cooper’s attorney provided during her bond review hearing – which was left as originally set at $1 million – Spies argued that after almost three years, if Danker was going to flee he would have done so already.

“Mr. Danker has lifelong connections to the Tama County area,” Spies argued before referring to a pretrial interview report conducted by the Sixth Judicial Dept. of Correctional Services and filed on April 30, 2024, summarizing the investigation into Danker’s eligibility for release.

Spies told Judge Anderson that Danker’s parents David and Denise Danker – who reside and farm near Traer – are willing to have their son reside with them at their farm home if he is released from pretrial custody. Any firearms at their home, Spies continued, would be either removed or secured.

Spies further explained: “[The Sixth Judicial Dept. of Correctional Services has] also been able to verify that Huston Danker has employment available to him with a landscaping firm in [La Porte City].”

Before ending his remarks, Spies said he was not aware of any funds that would “allow [Danker] to flee or set up a residence elsewhere.”

Judge’s ruling, trial date set

On May 31, Judge Anderson left Danker’s bond conditions as previously set: $1 million cash, surety or property; upon posting such bond, Danker would be released to the supervision of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services.

“The concerns expressed by the State in support of increasing bond are satisfactorily addressed by the existing conditions of release,” Judge Anderson wrote in his filing.

“Further, the State’s concerns regarding the Defendant’s access to insurance proceeds are only speculative on the existing record. While the court acknowledges that the Defendant has longstanding ties to the community, a minimal to nonexistent prior criminal history, and available employment, the nature and circumstances of the offense charged, the need to ensure community safety, and the potential flight risk that the Defendant poses in light of the pending charges all support the current bond amount.”

Danker’s jury trial is currently set to begin on Nov. 4, 2024, in Tama County District Court; however, during a trial scheduling conference held by telephone on May 21, Judge Anderson indicated the trial would likely be moved to Johnson County sometime in December if both parties could come to an agreement on a start date for the 10-day trial.

On Thursday, June 6, Danker filed a motion for a change of venue; the following day, the State declared in a court filing they would not resist Danker’s motion.

Karina Cooper’s 10-day trial is set to begin in Linn County on July 9, 2024.

As of press time, both Karina Cooper and Danker remained behind bars at the Tama County Jail in Toledo.