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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Jury deliberations that appeared headed for a mistrial instead brought emotions Thursday of “relief, exhaustion and happy” to the father of Chris Bagley after he heard the guilty verdict for his son’s killer — Drew Blahnik.
The Bagley family members cried and shared hugs after the verdict was read and the jury was dismissed from Linn County District Court. The anxiety the family said they had over the last two weeks of the murder trial went away as soon as they heard the word “guilty.”
The jury deliberated for nearly three days before finding Blahnik, originally charged with first-degree murder, guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder in the 2018 killing. Jurors also found him guilty as charged of obstruction of prosecution and abuse of a corpse.
Stewart Bagley said his family felt relief after Thursday’s roller coaster of emotions as jury deliberations seemed to be deadlocked.
“We felt defeated,” said the father, standing outside the Linn County Courthouse. “We didn’t want to do this all over again. It’s too much. The judge did the right thing to make the jurors keep going” to reach a verdict.
About an hour after they started Thursday morning, jurors sent a note to 6th Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns, saying they were deadlocked because one juror wasn’t following the court’s instructions and the law. They said they took a vote and it was 11-1.
They initially said further deliberations wouldn’t help. But Bruns, after talking with defense lawyers and prosecutors, sent a note back telling the jurors to continue deliberations to reach a unanimous verdict. The jury informed the court attendant it had a verdict after 3:30 p.m.
Blahnik, who didn’t show any emotion when the verdict was read, faces up to 50 years on the murder conviction and two years each on the other two charges. He must serve 70 percent of the murder sentence before being eligible for parole.
There also is a federal court detainer on Blahnik, and he faces drug charges stemming from the Chris Bagley investigation.
Judge Bruns set sentencing for Oct. 12.
The prosecution put on six days of testimony, but the defense rested without calling Blahnik or any other witnesses. Blahnik’s attorney, Leon Spies, said in his closing argument to the jury earlier this week that the killing was in self-defense or in the defense of others.
Blahnik’s family was in the courtroom for the verdict, as they were throughout the trial.
Drew Wagner, already convicted in this case, testified he and Blahnik found Bagley in the early morning hours of Dec. 14, 2018, at a trailer owned by Paul Hoff in Cedar Rapids.
Wagner got into an argument that escalated into a shoving or wrestling match with Bagley. When Wagner had control of Bagley with his arms around him — pinning Bagley’s arms down — Blahnik started stabbing him.
Hoff, also charged in this case, testified Blahnik took a knife from behind his back and in a punching motion started stabbing Bagley and screaming like a “maniac.”
A medical examiner said Bagley was stabbed 13 times in the neck and torso. Most of the wounds — to the stomach, spinal column, spleen and abdomen — could have been fatal, she said.
Wagner also testified that Bagley had pulled drug and money robberies on Shaw, who later was convicted in federal court for being a large-scale marijuana trafficker in Cedar Rapids. Shaw told Blahnik to “take care” of Bagley, who was “messing up” his business, testimony showed.
Shaw hasn’t been charged in this case. He was sentenced to eight years for drugs and firearms violations and remains in federal prison.
Wagner admitted during the trial that he and Blahnik had intended to kill Bagley that day.
Blahnik, in earlier statements to a grand jury, and Wagner both said Bagley had a gun during the fight. But Wagner said the gun fell to the floor during the struggle and was never a threat to him or to Blahnik. Hoff testified there was no gun.
Blahnik, in his grand jury testimony played at trial, said he saw Bagley reach behind his back for the gun during the struggle, so he grabbed a knife off a counter and started stabbing Bagley to protect Wagner and himself.
He said Bagley was the aggressor and he feared for his life.
Hoff said all three of them helped wrap up the body in a plastic tarp and bedsheet and loaded it into Wagner’s truck.
Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter, during her closing argument to the jury, said Blahnik and Wagner buried Bagley’s body in Wagner’s yard by the garage after they left the trailer that morning.
She also pointed out the entire killing incident took only 12 minutes based on the surveillance video of when Blahnik and Wagner arrived at Hoff’s trailer and left with Bagley’s body in the bed of the pickup truck.
The body was found buried under a pile of lumber and a canoe by the Wagner’s garage. Law enforcement had to warm the frozen ground Feb. 28, 2019, before they could dig through snow and ice to recover the body.
Spies, during his closing, questioned the credibility and motivations of Wagner, who received a plea deal, and of Hoff, who is serving 14 years on federal charges of drugs and firearms and who wanted a lesser sentence in exchange for his testimony and cooperation in this case.
Spies argued Blahnik, a former Army ranger, intervened when he saw Bagley’s gun to protect Wagner and himself.
“This is one soldier defending another and himself,” he said.
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