116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The sentencing of a Cedar Rapids man convicted in July of fatally stabbing Chris Bagley in 2018 will not go forward Tuesday because a judge will first rule on his motion for a new trial.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns postponed sentencing late last month because the defense asked for a new trial based on several issues. A ruling must be made on those before the court can move forward to sentencing Drew Blahnik, 34, convicted of second-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution.
In his order, Bruns said having a separate hearing to take up the new trial motion would avoid putting undue stress on the Bagley family — who would likely be prepared to give victim impact statements at sentencing — in the event that Bruns could take the arguments for new trial under advisement and make a ruling later.
If the new trial motion is denied, a sentencing hearing will be set, Bruns said in the order.
Leon Spies, Blahnik’s lawyer, in his motion argues the weight of the evidence warrants a new trial because the case was largely built on the accomplice testimony of Drew Wagner and Paul Hoff, who testified and cooperated with the prosecution for “leniency” — less prison time — in their convictions.
Blahnik admitted to stabbing Bagley, 31, of Walker, but his claim of self-defense was corroborated by evidence including that Bagley was “riled up by drugs” and talk over a planned robbery; Bagley’s possession of a gun; and “improbability” of Blahnik, a combat veteran, participating in killing someone known to be armed at a location unfamiliar to Blahnik, Spies asserts in his motion.
Spies also argues Bruns shouldn’t have given jurors a “verdict-urging” instruction after they were deadlocked because one juror refused to follow the jury instructions. The holdout juror said he/she wasn’t changing course, but the court, over the defense’s objections, sent a note urging the jurors to continue to reach a unanimous verdict, he said.
Spies, in the motion, said the jury returned with a verdict after that, which supports the conclusion that the judge’s note was “unduly coercive” and targeted one juror who the court knew faced criticism by the other jurors.
“The guilty verdict was the result not of deliberation but rather abdication,” Spies said in the motion.
Spies also argues there was juror misconduct and jury bias, asserting that he found out after trial that the foreperson wasn’t truthful in his familiarity with Bagley, Blahnik and the case.
An employee who worked for the foreperson told the defense the foreperson mentioned he “knew those guys,” and the foreperson’s business is within a half mile of where Bagley lived in a Marion apartment, which was later occupied by Blahnik. Both Bagley and Blahnik had been at this business, Spies asserts.
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, in his response, said the unanimous verdict on all three charges was consistent with the substantial weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses who saw Blahnik fatally stab Bagley 13 times in the neck and torso.
Vander Sanden said the court properly submitted an “Allen charge” — urging the jury to continue deliberations to reach a unanimous verdict. The court is given “wide latitude” to give this instruction when a jury reports it’s deadlocked.
“The test is whether the instruction improperly coerced or helped coerce a verdict or merely initiated a new train of real deliberation which terminated the disagreement,” Vander Sanden argues in his response.
The judge also used language approved by Iowa appellate courts under similar circumstances in case law, and the defense has failed to prove or demonstrate any alleged juror misconduct or bias, he added.
Regarding the alleged juror misconduct or bias, Vander Sanden said the foreperson made a “full and complete” disclosure of his acquaintance with the parties and his “fleeting” exposure to news coverage of this case — both in the juror questionnaire and during jury questioning.
The foreperson also said one of his employees had dated a brother of Bagley, and more importantly, the juror said he/she could be fair and impartial, Vander Sanden said.
Drew Wagner, who was sentenced in August to 47 years in prison in this case, testified at trial he and Blahnik found Bagley in the early morning 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 convicted 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.”
Blahnik, who didn’t call any witnesses and didn’t testify at trial, told a grand jury he saw Bagley reach behind his back for a gun during the struggle, so he grabbed a knife off the counter and started stabbing Bagley to protect Wagner and himself.
Blahnik faces up to 57 years in prison.
Comments: (319) 398-8318; email@example.com