CEDAR RAPIDS — The first-degree murder retrial of Nicholas Luerkens, accused of stabbing his former girlfriend to death in a grocery store parking lot in 2015, has been reset for a second time.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner granted the defense’s motion Friday to reset the trial after Leon Spies, Luerkens’ lawyer, said he needed more time because new medical findings have come to light that were not available during Luerkens’ first trial.
Spies said his experts told him they cannot do the testing and get results by March 19, the date that had been set for the retrial.
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden argued against the continuance, saying he was ready to have the trial in March. Schedules, he said, have been arranged for his staff and many witnesses to travel out of town to testify in Scott County District Court. The defense has had six months to prepare for the March date, he added.
Turner was hesitant to delay the trial but said he “had no choice” because “everybody must have a fair trial.”
Turner granted the defense’s request last year to move the trial from Linn County because of pretrial publicity.
He reminded the lawyers that a new date is dependent upon Scott County’s court schedule. He said preliminatry checking indicated the earliest available date would be the week of July 23.
He added this would be the last continuance granted, barring something unexpected.
A Linn County jury convicted Luerkens, 35, of first-degree murder in November 2015 in the fatal stabbing of Lynnsey Donald, 29, in the Marion Hy-Vee parking lot on April 21, 2015. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled in May 2017 that Luerkens should have a new trial because the judge should have allowed the jury to consider an insanity defense. In June, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to review that decision.
Turner ruled in the first trial that the defense hadn’t submitted sufficient evidence to present the insanity claim to the jury.
Evidence at the 2015 trial, including a surveillance video of the attack, showed Luerkens stabbed Donald 32 times. He ambushed her in the parking lot as she was holding the hand of her 7-year-old son, who saw the stabbing and ran to his home.
Luerkens then turned the knife on himself, saying he was going to jail and wanted to die, witnesses testified.
The defense never denied Luerkens killed Donald, only that he had diminished capacity at the time.
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