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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A witness testified Friday that a juror in Drew Blahnik’s murder trial may have said he knew “those guys” while watching news coverage before the trial.
A Linn County jury in July convicted Blahnik, 34, of second-degree murder and other charges in the Dec. 14, 2018, fatal stabbing of Chris Bagley, 31, of Walker.
Blahnik’s attorney is seeking a new trial for his client, citing juror bias and other factors.
During the Friday hearing, Alysha Cornelius, a former bartender at Wrigleyville bar in Marion, said she overheard a customer saying the bar’s manager, Dane Harris, was a juror in the Drew Blahnik murder trial.
Cornelius admitted she told Blahnik’s stepmother, Peggy Blahnik, a friend of hers, something about her boss.
But Cornelius said she does not recall telling Peggy Blahnik that Harris knew Bagley or Blahnik. She only said Harris had possibly said he knew “those guys.”
Cornelius added that she had coronavirus in August 2020 and sometimes still has “brain fog” and doesn’t remember things.
Cornelius was subpoenaed to testify on behalf of Blahnik’s petition for a new trial. The Friday hearing was the second part of a hearing that started in October that Cornelius didn’t show up for.
In the October hearing, Leon Spies, Blahnik’s attorney, also argued the judge shouldn’t have sent a “verdict-urging” instruction to the jury when they sent notes saying they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision because one juror wasn’t following jury instructions.
During Friday’s hearing, Cornelius also testified that when Peggy Blahnik had her speak to Spies on the phone, she told Spies she didn’t know if Harris knew Drew Blahnik or Bagley.
She said Spies later asked her to sign a pre-drafted affidavit, but she refused because it wasn’t accurate.
Peggy Blahnik testified that Cornelius had told her that Harris had said, “Yeah, I know those guys,” when news coverage about the case came on at the bar. Cornelius didn’t specifically say Bagley or anyone, Peggy Blahnik said.
Harris, 41, who was a juror in Blahnik’s trial, testified Friday the only news coverage he recalls seeing about the case was when Bagley’s body was found buried in southeast Cedar Rapids. He said he didn’t remember having any conversation with Cornelius about it.
During jury selection, Harris said he disclosed he knew John Bagley, Chris Bagley’s brother, “in passing,” because, at the time, John Bagley was dating one of Harris’ employees.
Harris said he didn’t know Bagley or Blahnik. He said it was possible they may have been in his bar, but he didn’t remember them.
Spies said the defense’s theory is that both Bagley and Blahnik had been in Wrigleyville because the Marion apartment where they lived, at different times, was only five blocks from the bar.
According to testimony at trial, Blahnik had been drinking heavily and was going to a bar every day. Bagley’s behavior before his death was described as hyper, and he was acting fearful and paranoid. Both of those behaviors, Spies argued, would have “made an impression” at the bar.
If defense attorneys would have had the information about Harris knowing people involved in the trial, they could have questioned him or stricken him from the jury panel, Spies said.
Assistant County Attorney Monica Slaughter argued the defense’s claims are based on a “remote possibility” that Blahnik and Bagley may have been patrons at the bar and since Harris worked there, he should have known them.
Harris said he didn’t know the men, and his statements and answers on the questionnaire and during jury selection were consistent.
Slaughter said Cornelius wasn’t sure what she said about the men. She couldn’t identify “those guys.” There’s no evidence, just an allegation, which Harris refutes.
Ruling to come
Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns said he will make a written ruling on the case far enough in advance so the prosecution and defense can prepare for Blahnik’s possible sentencing.
If he grants Blahnik’s motion for a new trial, the sentencing would be canceled.
If he denies the motion, Blahnik will be sentenced Dec. 17 to up to 57 years in prison.
The sentencing date was set to ensure it could happen before Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, who was one of the prosecutors on the case, retires at the end of December.
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