Public Safety

Trial for man accused of fatally stabbing Chris Bagley will stay in Linn County, judge rules

Drew Blahnik
Drew Blahnik

CEDAR RAPIDS — The man accused of fatally stabbing Chris Bagley in 2018 will be tried in Linn County because it’s not clear to what extent any potential jurors have been exposed to the pretrial publicity.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns, in his ruling, said Drew Blahnik, 32, charged with first-degree murder, introduced dozens of internet, newspaper and television articles at last month’s hearing, concerning Chris Bagley, 31, of Walker, including when he went missing Dec. 14, 2018, the investigation and two other co-defendants. The articles all show the publicity has been “long-lived and pervasive,” but it’s unknown to what extent any potential jurors have been exposed to this publicity, he added.

“Readership of these articles may or may not be as extensive as defendant contends,” Bruns said in the ruling.

The prosecution argued the articles had been spread out over a considerable period. Bruns said there is no “clear editorial bent” to the articles submitted, although some of the articles mention that Blahnik “confessed” and some indicate he is guilty of killing versus accused of killing Bagley.

The articles also contain comments from Bagley’s family and their desire for justice, he added.

The defendant also introduced evidence of social media posts and comments on articles where people have expressed opinions on Blahnik’s guilt or punishment he should receive.

The prosecution argued that there is no information as to whether any of those people reside in Linn County, Bruns noted. Many of the people appear to have known Bagley, Blahnik, Drew Wagner — also convicted in this case — and others who may testify at trial. But if they were called for jury duty, they wouldn’t be selected as jurors.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Bruns said he agreed with the defendant that based on the evidence offered, some or many people may have heard about the case or read the articles, but that doesn’t equate to proof of a “substantial likelihood of prejudice.”

Although Bruns denied the motion to move the trial, he did add that if jury selection establishes that a fair and impartial trial is not possible with a Linn County jury, the court will allow Blahnik to renew his motion. The case would then result in a mistrial and a change in venue would be ordered.

Blahnik also is charged with abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution in Bagley’s death.

Drew Wagner, 34, 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.

During his plea hearing, he admitted to starting a fight with Bagley for robbing their drug dealer, Andrew Shaw. Wagner said he held Bagley down while Blahnik repeatedly stabbed him.

Wagner also said he and Blahnik buried Bagley in the yard of a southeast home where he was living at the time.

Authorities recovered the body March 1, 2019.

Wagner, initially charged with first-degree murder, faces up to 37 years in prison. He likely will be sentenced after testifying against Blahnik.

Paul Hoff, 42, of Cedar Rapids, already sentenced to 14 years for firearms and drugs in federal court, also is charged in Bagley’s death with abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution. He is being tried separately.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Shaw, 31, of Cedar Rapids, a large-scale marijuana trafficker, was convicted and serving up to eight years in prison. He was not charged in Bagley’s death.

Blahnik’s trial remains set for Feb. 15.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.