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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge Tuesday didn’t rule on a motion for a new trial for a Cedar Rapids man convicted in July of killing Chris Bagley because one of the witnesses couldn’t be at the hearing.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns postponed sentencing late last month for Drew Blahnik, 34, because of this motion. If the motion is granted, Blahnik will receive a new trial. If it’s denied, then his sentencing will be reset. Blahnik has been convicted of second-degree murder and two other charges stemming from Bagley’s 2018 slaying. He faces up to 57 years in prison.
During the brief hearing Tuesday, Bruns said he would hear arguments, in addition to accepting the written arguments previously filed, on any of the issues except juror bias because the witness for that couldn’t be at the hearing.
Most of the issues the defense raised were over jury instructions and some rulings made before or during the trial.
The main issue argued during the hearing was the “verdict-urging” instruction given to the jury after they sent notes to the court. The notes said one juror wasn’t following the instructions and that they were deadlocked. The judge sent back the last note, asking them to continue deliberations to reach a unanimous verdict.
Defense attorney Leon Spies said the holdout juror had his or her mind made up, but then the jury came back with a verdict an hour or so later. That showed no evidence of real deliberation, he said.
“The pressure on that juror must have been enormous,” Spies said.
Spies said he understood that the judge used approved language, but he views a verdict-urging instruction as “explicitly coercive.”
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said the court is given wide discretion to give the “Allen charge” — or a verdict-urging instruction. The instruction can be given if there is a deadlock as long as it’s not coercive.
He said the judge used language in the instruction that appellate courts have upheld.
There have been previous trials in this district where such an instruction has been given to deadlocked juries.
A jury received a similar instruction in the trial of Jerome Power, who was convicted in 2012 for the 2010 strangulation death of his neighbor, Doris Bevins, 68, of Cedar Rapids.
The instruction also was given in the trial for Amy Parmer, who was convicted in 2013 for causing the death of her boyfriend’s toddler, Kamryn Schlitter. The child died from head injuries.
Bruns patterned his instruction in the Blahnik case after the instruction from the Parmer trial because it was upheld by the appellate courts.
Another hearing will be set later to continue arguments on the motion for a new trial.
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