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State requests further review of Christensen appeal

State Attorney General’s office files Request for Further Review, states appeals court disregarded facts of trial

May 18, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

On May 8, Kelli Huser, Assistant Iowa State Attorney General, filed a motion for further review to the appeals court of the state of Iowa.

The Iowa Court of Appeals on April 18 ordered a new trial for Lee Christensen, 20, who is convicted of second degree murder in the June 6, 2015 shooting death of Thomas Bortvit.

The state said in its request that "the Court of Appeals is internally conflicted on the standard of review required by State v. Webster, 865 N.W.2d 223 (Iowa 2015), for rule-based juror misconduct claims."

The state said the Court of Appeals issued two opinions: the majority opinion, which called for a new trial, and the dissenting opinion of Judge McDonald, which opposed a new trial, which both relied on the Webster case, but identified different standards of review.

The state's application said, "This split in decisions and among the judges shows confusion over Webster and what level of deference that appellate courts must give the district court in rule-based juror claims."

The application also states the court should grant further review because the court "decided an issue of broad public importance."

In the application, the state listed instances in which the Court of Appeals rejected the district court's fact findings in the trial record and substituted its own.

The state requested the Court, "grant the application for further review, vacate the Court of Appeals opinion, and affirm the defendant's conviction."

According to the Iowa Judicial Branch, a decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals is final unless reviewed by the Iowa Supreme Court on grant of further review.

After an application for further review, the research staff drafts a memorandum recommending whether an application should be granted or denied. A three-justice panel reviews the recommendation and makes a recommendation of its own. The supreme court as a whole ultimately decides whether to grant or deny the application.

As a snapshot of the court's activity, on April 24, the court granted one further review order and denied 18, and had 50 cases under consideration.



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