Nicholas Luerkens asks court to move his murder retrial out of county based on pretrial publicity

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Nicholas Luerkens, who will be retried in the 2015 fatal stabbing of his former girlfriend, is asking the court to move the trial out of Linn County based on “pervasive and prejudicial pretrial publicity.”  

In a motion filed last week in Linn County District Court, Luerkens’ new lawyer, Leon Spies of Iowa City, cited extensive news and social media coverage following Luerkens’ arrest on April 21, 2015, his trial and the Iowa Court of Appeals decision in May that overturned his first-degree murder conviction.

A jury convicted Luerkens, 35, 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 appeals court ruled 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.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner ruled during the trial that the defense hadn’t submitted sufficient evidence to present the insanity claim to the jury.

Spies also said in the motion that not only has the press coverage created a “presumption of prejudice but also an atmosphere of actual bias in Linn County.” There is a “substantial likelihood” that Luerkens would not receive a fair and impartial trial in this county, he added.

Spies did not make a suggestion of where to move the trial.

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden as of Friday had not responded to the motion for a change of venue.

Luerkens’ retrial is set for Dec. 4, but it will likely be reset if Turner grants the change of venue.

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.

Iowa Court of Appeals Judge Amanda Potterfield, who wrote the May opinion, cited the accounts of Luerkens’ parents regarding their son’s mental state declining when he started taking Paxil, a drug prescribed to treat depression.

Testimony also was presented that Luerkens suffered from clinical depression and severe alcohol use disorder and that he had several drugs in his system at the time of the killing.

In its appeals argument, the prosecution presented evidence that Luerkens was aware of what he had done and the consequences of his actions. He didn’t meet the legal standard for insanity, a prosecutor argued.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.comIn an appeal argument, the prosecution presented evidence that Luerkens was aware of what he had done and the consequences of his actions. He didn’t meet the legal standard for insanity, a prosecutor argued.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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