116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Chris Bagley kissed his wife, Courtney, on the forehead the evening of Dec. 13, 2018, and said he loved her as if it was the last time he’d have left to say that, she recalled Friday.
They were separated at the time, but they had plans to go Christmas shopping for their two children the next day, she said during the first day of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Drew Blahnik, 34, of Cedar Rapids.
Courtney Bagley waited at the mall for her 31-year-old husband, but he didn’t show. She called him but got no answer. That night before was, indeed, the last time she would see her husband alive.
In her opening statement as the trial began, Assistant Linn County Attorney Jennifer Erger told a jury this went from a missing person case to a homicide case after Chris Bagley was killed in December 2018.
“He suffered a violent and brutal end,” Erger told jurors. An autopsy showed Bagley had 17 “sharp force” wounds to his neck and torso.
Erger said Bagley’s body then was buried in the backyard of the one of the suspect’s homes in a “desperate” attempt to hide the crime. As the trial unfolds, the facts will show Blahnik was the killer, Erger told jurors.
It wasn’t self-defense as the defendant claims, she said. Blahnik had an accomplice — Drew Wagner, 35, who already has pleaded in this case.
Witnesses will testify, Erger said, that Bagley went to a mobile home late Dec. 14 or early Dec. 15, 2018, that was owned by Paul Hoff, 42, in Cedar Rapids. While the two men talked about committing a robbery, a truck outside with Wagner and Blahnik was circling but didn’t stop because they didn’t see Bagley’s vehicle outside.
A short time later, Wagner called Hoff and learned Bagley was inside, Erger said. Wagner and Blahnik drove back to Hoff’s home. Wagner took Hoff aside and said the two were going to “mess up” Bagley.
Erger said Wagner and Blahnik got into a shoving fight with Bagley. Wagner held Bagley down as Blahnik stabbed him repeatedly. “In this stabbing frenzy,” she said, Blahnik accidentally stabbed Wagner’s hand.
Wagner and Blahnik then wrapped up Bagley’s body in a tarp and loaded him into Wagner’s truck. He was buried in Wagner’s yard in southeast Cedar Rapids.
Bagley was killed because he had committed robberies against Andrew Shaw, his drug dealer, Erger said. Wagner and Blahnik devised the plan to kill Bagley but Shaw was behind it. He gave the two men money and drugs for committing the killing. Shaw “sought his own justice through Wagner and Blahnik,” Erger asserted.
Shaw, 32, has been convicted in federal court of being a marijuana trafficker and having firearms. Those charges stemmed from the Bagley investigation, but Shaw hasn’t been charged in this case. He remains in federal prison.
Hoff was the “first domino to fall,” Erger said, telling investigators that Blahnik stabbed Bagley at this trailer. Then Wagner admitted that Blahnik stabbed Bagley when investigators were digging up Bagley’s body.
Blahnik initially said he knew nothing about the disappearance of Bagley, his death or being at the trailer that morning. He eventually admitted to stabbing Bagley, but said it was in self-defense.
There were conflicting statements about a gun falling to the floor during this assault, but the gun never posed a threat to Wagner or Blahnik, Erger said.
Defense attorney Leon Spies, in his opening statement to the jury, said Blahnik stabbed Bagley because he thought Wagner and Bagley were in a “death struggle” and that Bagley had a gun.
“He killed him (Bagley), but he didn’t commit murder,” Spies said.
Spies said Blahnik also didn’t move or bury Bagley’s body, as Wagner and Hoff claimed. Blahnik didn’t report it to police because Hoff had threatened him.
Blahnik served in the military, doing two tours in Afghanistan, Spies pointed out. He was a sniper and involved in dangerous missions — daily facing death. There were many friends close to him who were killed there, and he experienced anguish every night after he returned.
Spies said Blahnik acted instinctively that morning and tried to end the threat to himself and Wagner. His actions were reasonable under the circumstances, Spies said — he reacted with “panic and fear.”
In other testimony, Courtney Bagley said her husband wasn’t making “great choices” in 2018 when they separated. She found out he was using and selling drugs. And there was “another woman.”
Her husband was scared in his last days. He said Shaw “put out a hit” on him, she recalled. Shaw would drive by their house, harassing them. She said she wasn’t aware of Wagner and Blahnik at the time.
Two Linn County sheriff’s deputies testified Friday about responding to a robbery report at Shaw’s investments business in Cedar Rapids — which was later raided in 2019 by federal agents for drugs and guns — and a road rage incident. Both involved Bagley.
Shaw said Bagley assaulted him and robbed his business and also damaged his car in a road rage incident, but he wouldn’t let officers inside his business to investigate the robbery and never filed a complaint in the road rage incident.
Lydia Oline, who Bagley was in a sexual relationship with in November and December 2018, and another woman, Corissa Marti, also testified about being at Hoff’s home on Dec. 15, 2018. They both said when they each left the trailer, Bagley was alive.
Both women said they used drugs that day and that Bagley was talking to Hoff about taking some “guys” by surprise and possibly doing a robbery. Marti said Bagley was showing his gun to Hoff.
Both women also said they saw knives on the bar in Hoff’s trailer.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Monday in Linn County District Court. It is expected to last over two weeks.
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