Lee Christensen Case Jury poll complete; Judge to rule on new trial motion
Editor’s note:?while the names of the jurors were announced in court, we have elected to refer to each juror we are quoting by letters of the alphabet.
The attorneys in the case of Lee S. Christensen will file briefs by the end of October, which will help Judge David Lester decide whether to sentence defendant Christensen, 19, on his conviction of murder in the second degree, or to award him a new trial.
This follows a hearing in which the jurors in the case were polled about their exposure to social media and other communication about the trial outside the courtroom.
Thomas Bortvit died June 6, 2015. Christensen is convicted of second degree murder in Bortvit’s death.
One juror was questioned in Judge David Lester’s chambers by telephone as she was out of town.
Defense attorney Leon Spies asked each juror whether a)?Did the juror peronally hear or see information and comments on social media, traditional media, or in the community about a possible riot, public disturbance or acts of violence if a certain verdict was not reached; and b)?did any other jurors talk about anything they had seen or heard about a riot or disturbance?
Juror A, one of two male jurors, said any discussion happened after the jury had announced its verdict and returned to they jury room. Juror A said, “One jury member asked the Sheriff to drive by her house a few times over the weekend. Basically some jurors felt like there could be a threat.”?
Juror A said, “It did not impact our decision; it had an impact on the jury feeling safe.”?
Juror B shared her recollection saying, “The comment about a possible disturbance was mentioned to all of us, and someone was going to talk to the judge about it.” This same juror said another female juror conveyed that her granddaughter saw a post on Facebook.
Judge Lester told Juror B., “I?have no recollection of someone coming to me.”?
Juror B. said, “I?don’t know. Maybe it was a discussion of, ‘maybe we should or maybe we shouldn’t.”?
Juror B. said, “I?didn’t know we had actually asked, or were getting an escort until we had left court.”?
Juror C. said one person commented in the jury room about a possible riot, but it was not discussed among the jurors. Juror D. recalled the Juror E said, “If it is not first degree murder, people will be upset at the courthouse. I?don’t think anyone reacted or said too much about that.”?
Juror D. said there were safety concerns among the jurors, after the jury announced the verdict of murder in the second degree.
“The Sheriff escorted us.”?
Assistant State Attorney General Coleman McAllister asked, “was that because of what a juror had heard?”?
Juror E. said, “I?believe so. One person said there was a Facebook post. I?don’t think anyone saw it themselves. They were told about it by someone else.”?
Juror F. took a poll of jurors in the jury room, “to see who was worried about safety.”?
McAllister asked Juror F., “Was the concern over something that was a threat outside the courthouse, or the emotional nature of the proceedings?”
Juror F. said, “It had been a highly charged trial, and the courtroom was highly charged. There was a lot of emotional pressure in the jury room. That was driving it.”?
McAllister asked for a 10 minute recess in order to contact a potential additional witness.
When court reconvened, McAllister asked Judge David Lester to provide his recollection of his discussion with the jurors.
“The jurors’ concerns were based on the emotionally charged case,”?Lester said. “They were concerned over possible confrontations with family members and the public. They were worried about confrontations while leaving the courthouse.”?
Judge Lester continued, “There was absolutely no statement made to me regarding social media.”
After Judge Lester concluded his statement of record, Spies said, “This is a complex area of the law. Rulings vary from district to district. I’d be willing to provide supplemental briefing on the issue.”
McAllister said, “I?will respond when the defense files a brief.”?
Attorney Kent Simmons of Davenport, an experienced criminal defense attorney who also handles post-conviction cases involving constitutional issues, addressed the question of double jeapordy:?
“In this case, because the first-degree murder charge went to the jury, but the jury returned a guilty verdict on second-degree — but not first-degree– murder, the state is prohibited from retrying the defendant on first-degree murder, assuming that a new trial is granted.”
Judge Lester set the due date for the defense brief to Oct. 25, and for the prosecution’s response for Oct. 31.