CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge rules Monday to delay the trial for a man accused of killing Chris Bagley in 2018, which will allow the defense more time to further review and develop evidence for trial, based on the fact that they received lab results late and may require additional expert witnesses.
Leon Spies, an Iowa City lawyer representing Drew Blahnik, who is charged with first-degree murder, earlier Monday argued during a hearing that they received important lab results of evidence late and experts he has consulted said they cannot review the materials and form opinions before Feb. 16, when the trial was set to begin in Linn County District Court.
About a week and half ago, the defense team received six new lab reports on fabric and upholstery of a vehicle belonging to Drew Wagner, a co-defendant convicted in this case, which contained male DNA, and testing of knives and knife sheaths found in Blahnik’s apartment, Spies said.
He noted that he wasn’t blaming the prosecution. He said he understands prosecutors had to depend on state and federal agencies to complete the analysis of the evidence. Just last week, he found out the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation wouldn’t provide lab results to the defense without a court order. Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, in his argument against delaying the trial, said the defense hasn’t shown a “good and compelling cause” to delay the trial, which is required.
Vander Sanden said the defendant’s motion “should be viewed in the light of the defense being raised.” Blahnik is claiming self-defense and defense of another, which is an affirmative defense “essentially acknowledging” that he committed the act while claiming he was justified.
The scientific test results that will be offered at trial are summarized in the minutes of testimony filed Jan. 7, over a month before the trial, Vander Sanden noted. The reports those minutes are based upon previously were disclosed to the defendant.
FBI reports dated July 31 and Sept. 26, 2019, describing the DNA testing and fingerprint examinations were given to Spies with the bulk of other evidence Jan. 3, 2020, the prosecutor said.
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The lab results of the DNA testing of the knife sheaths were provided to the defense July 9, 2020, Vander Sanden said. The additional FBI reports were provided as soon as the prosecution received them, he said. However, those reports didn’t disclose any consequential scientific conclusions. Testing of the defendant’s two knives and sheaths showed “no discernible results,” he said.
Vander Sanden said the physical evidence didn’t “tell us anything we didn’t already know.”
Spies said he thinks the defense will present a different interpretation of the evidence and it’s “critical” to have it reviewed. They don’t know the underlying data for the testing and they are still missing an additional six lab reports, he said.
It would be “irresponsible” for him not to pursue all the information in order to defend his client, Spies said.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns said he found there is “good and compelling cause” to reset the trial to allow the defendant the opportunity to develop evidence from the additional information to help “bolster his own credibility or undermine the credibility of the state’s witnesses.”
The trial will be reset at a later time.
Blahnik, 33, also is charged with abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution in Bagley’s death.
Drew Wagner, 35, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded in June to amended charges of voluntary manslaughter, assault while participating in a felony, conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution in Bagley’s death.
During his plea hearing, he admitted to starting a fight with Bagley for robbing their drug dealer, Andrew Shaw, of Cedar Rapids, who has been convicted in federal court. Wagner said he held Bagley down while Blahnik repeatedly stabbed him.
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Wagner also said he and Blahnik buried Bagley, 31, who went missing Dec. 14, 2018, in the yard of a southeast Cedar Rapids home where Wagner was living at the time.
Bagley’s body was excavated from the ground next to the house March 1, 2019.
Wagner faces up to 37 years in prison. He likely will be sentenced after testifying against Blahnik.
Paul Hoff, 41, of Cedar Rapids, already sentenced in federal court to 14 years for firearms and drugs violations, also is charged in Bagley’s death with abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution. He is being tried separately.
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