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No new trial yet Iowa’s highest court will review the order for Christensen’s new trial

Iowa’s highest court will review the order for Christensen’s new trial

July 25, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Monday, the Iowa Supreme Court granted further review of the Appeals Court's decision to return Lee Christensen's case to district court for a new trial.

Christensen, now 20, was convicted Dec. 21, 2016 of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Thomas Lee Bortvit, 19, on June 6, 2015 in Emmet County. Christensen is serving a sentence of 50 years at Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa.

After his conviction, Christensen filed an appeal in January, 2017. The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the appeal in February, 2018. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court's ruling and remanded the case back to district court for a new trial on April 18.

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The state attorney general's office filed an application for further review May 8, asking the Iowa Supreme Court, "Does State v. Websterinstruct an appellate court that it is free 'to disagree with the district court's key fact-findings' on a motion for a new trial based on juror misconduct?'"

The state's application said the Iowa Court of Appeals "adopted a new standard for rule-based juror misconduct claimsthe Court of Appeals replaced the district court's fact-findings with its own to reverse and remand Lee Christensen's second-degree murder conviction."

Christensen's attorney, Leon Spies of Iowa City, filed a resistance to the state's application, and asked the Iowa Supreme Court, "Does State v. Websterpermit de novo review of a district court's rule denying a rule-based and constitution-based claim of jury misconduct?"

Christensen requested a new trial during his trial in late June, 2016, during the testimony of state crime scene investigators due to an investigator's statement that the defense never requested to test a certain set of evidence. Christensen's attorney stated Christensen was not required to prove his innocence, but the burden of proof is on the State.

Christensen again requested a new trial after the defense learned of allegations that jurors had been exposed to and viewed various Facebook rumors of riots if a specific verdict was not reached, or violence against the jurors. In September, 2016, the district court took the unusual step of subpoenaing each juror for questioning about their interaction with the social media posts and other actions, which could constitute misconduct.

In its order, the state's highest court agreed to review en banc (as a whole court) previously filed papers, and said it does not seek any further briefing on the law. Somewhere in the calendar of its next session, which includes dates from September, 2018 through April, 2019, the court will hear oral arguments from the Applicant, which is the state attorney general's office, and the resister, which is Christensen's attorney, Leon Spies, for 15 minutes each, and the Applicant will issue a five minute reply.



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