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Lee Christensen case Hearing held for new trial, jury poll

Judge Lester will issue order early this week, before Friday’s sentencing

September 11, 2016
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Prosecution and defense attorneys presented their arguments in favor of and opposition to the defense motions for a new trial and for a jury poll in Emmet County court Friday morning.

Leon Spies, defense attorney for Lee Christensen, said the integrity of the trial process was "shaken" by several missteps during the trial.

Christensen was convicted July 1 by an Emmet County jury of second degree murder in the death of Thomas Bortvit on June 6, 2015.

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Spies said the testimony of Tara Scott of the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations crime lab implied that Christensen was responsible for proving his innocence.

Spies also said the testimony of crime scene investigator Peter Wagner "created a parade of untruths"?and denied Christensen a fair trial.

At issue is Wagner's testimony during trial about whether he did or did not use a metal detector at the scene of the Don Christensen farm during the investigation, and also his failure to examine and photograph some of the outbuildings at the farm.

Wagner was re-called to the stand to clarify the dispute about the metal detector.

Spies also outlined the defense's concerns about Juror 18.

Juror 18 was accused of asserting that nothing would change her mind about Christensen's guilt to witnesses at a family gathering during the weekend between the two weeks of trial. When asked in Judge Lester's chambers if this was true, Spies said Juror 18 was "equivocal," that she did not clearly state she hadn't done so, but said,?"I don't think so,"?and I don't remember."?

When State Attorney General Coleman McAllister presented his argument, he said Juror 18 made it clear that she wanted to do the right thing and did not come into the trial with a bias.

Spies then addressed his motion for a jury poll. The defense motion centers around a social media post which reported rumors of a possible riot in case of any verdict besides guilty of first degree murder was returned.

Spies said the fact that after they were excused from jury duty, jurors feared for their safety and requested law enforcement escort to their vehicles was evidence that they were influenced by this post, which had 67 shares by other Facebook users and according to Facebook analytics was viewed 18,323 times.

McAllister said there was no evidence the jurors were exposed to the Facebook post in question, nor any other media that influenced their decision.

Jurors were admonished more than once per trial day, to avoid viewing or listening to any media, including social media, and to not speak to each other or anyone in or out of the courtroom about the case, nor to conduct their own investigation.

Spies requested the "extraordinary measure"?of re-paneling the jury in order to conduct the poll.

Judge Lester said he viewed no case in which a jury excused from service was re-paneled, but that a poll of the jury would involve a hearing, and each juror would be subpoenaed to that hearing.

Lester said he would take the matters under advisement and issue an order during the early part of this week, in advance of the Sept. 16 sentencing.



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