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Supreme court reviews case of justice for Thomas

Christensen's attorney and state attorney general's office take their turns before Iowa Supreme Court Tuesday

October 10, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

With reporting from the court media pool

Attorneys for Lee S. Christensen and the State of Iowa appeared before the Supreme Court of Iowa Wednesday evening in the state's appeal for further review from the Supreme Court. In April, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed Christensen's 2016 conviction of second-degree murder in the June 6, 2015 shooting death of Thomas Lee Bortvit in Estherville.

Christensen's attorney, Leon Spies of Iowa City, argued that the jury in Christensen's district court trial was biased against Christensen and committed misconduct by reading social media posts and discussing the trial outside of the courthouse.

The state Supreme Court met in Red Oak at the performing arts center an effort to allow more of the public to see the court at work.

Assistant State Attorney General Tyler Buller said, "What we have in this case is what's happened in every Iowa courtroom going back 150 years. Every time there is a small-town, high profile prosecution, there is innuendo and there is gossip. This case is nothing more than that with the added twist of 21st century technology."

Defense attorney Leon Spies said, "Can the defendant, can the state take comfort in the state in the appearance of impropriety that jurors were exposed to outside influence, rendered a verdict and be it misconduct or bias the color of it is so bad it doesn't appear that the defendant received a fair trial? So under that higher standard, I believe the judge missed the mark."

During the June 2016 district court trial, Judge David Lester denied the defense motion for a new trial after Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister asked a state crime lab employee a question that elicited the response that Christensen had not requested to test a piece of evidence. Spies said then that Christensen was not required to prove his innocence; the state was required to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justices said it may be a few months before they announce their decision: the court may either affirm the decision of the district court that convicted Christensen of second degree murder; reverse the conviction, or remand, sending the case back to district court with instructions for a new trial.



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