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Christensen sentenced 50 years for Bortvit murder

By Staff | Dec 21, 2016

Thomas Bortvit’s mother, Sheila, sister, Brittany, and father, Darryl, give a statement to the press after the sentencing hearing of Lee Christensen Wednesday morning. Photo by Amy H. Peterson

Lee Samuel Christensen, 19, was sentenced to 50 years in prison during a Wednesday morning hearing.

Judge David Lester followed the guidelines in the criminal code of Iowa, and had no discretion to impose any other sentence.

In a statement following the hearing, the Bortvit family thanked supporters.

“I couldn’t ask for a better community to live in,”?Thomas Bortvit’s sister, Brittany, said.

Brittany said, “Thomas was the kind of person who would take the shirt off his back for anybody. He was so kind and so helpful in so many ways, I can’t even count the times he spread his kindness or his smile.”?

Lee Christensen enters the Emmet County Courthouse for sentencing. Photo by Amy H. Peterson

During her victim impact statement, Brittany Bortvit addressed Christensen.

“You, Lee, stole my brother, my only sibling, my best friend, for what?”?

Brittany said, “We would have done anything for each other.?I would have taken the bullets for him.”

Brittany Bortvit described the day Thomas was killed, and noted the strong bond between siblings.

“At the end of the day, Lee, you didn’t realize how close I was with my brother.”

A young supporter of Thomas Bortvit’s family holds a Justice for Thomas poster after the sentencing hearing of Lee Christensen, who is convicted of killing Bortvit. Photo by Amy H. Peterson

Darryl, Brittany and Sheila Bortvit all described the life events they would miss sharing with Thomas, including Thomas attending Brittany’s wedding, Brittany’s graduation with her Master of Science in Nursing, of seeing Thomas become a police officer, a detective, a father.

“I’ll never see Thomas look at his children the way I looked at him,”?Darryl Bortvit said.

Sheila Bortvit said, “We all feel lost.”?Sheila said many friends and family members of Thomas are in counseling with professionals or clergy members. Sheila said she experiences post-traumatic stress disorder and has been treated with therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Sheila said she has had nightmares and panic attacks, making it difficult for her to work or go out in public.

“I don’t go to church, because in the Lord’s Prayer, we state we forgive others. I?don’t forgive you,”?Sheila Bortvit said to Christensen.

“I?will see Thomas again someday,”?Sheila Bortvit said.

“Thomas was a true Christian, and believed in God. He treated people the way he wanted to be treated,”?Sheila Bortvit said.

“All our dreams of Thomas are gone,”?due to the actions of Christensen, Sheila Bortvit said.

Defense attorney Leon Spies made a brief statement about the mandatory sentence, on constitutional grounds.

“[Christensen] was 18 years old for less than two months,”?Spies said.

Spies said due to Christensen’s age, emotional and intellectual maturity, the mandatory sentencing does not adequately serve justice.

Speis said it was not just about retribution, but about Christensen’s rehabilitation.

Judge Lester said, “I do not have any discretion.”?

Lester said there are cases before the Iowa Supreme Court which challenge mandatory minimum sentences for youthful offenders.

Lester said, “[Those cases] do not extend to the facts of this case.”

Judge Lester addressed Christensen and asked him if he wanted to give allocution, which is a formal statement given by the convicted person at sentencing.

“I have none,”?Christensen said.

During the family’s public statement,?Brittany Bortvit said, “You always have your hope that he would make some sort of statement that would maybe help you in the long run, but I think it was best for everybody that he didn’t say anything.”?

She said, “We’re always going to want to know why, and the reasons, and how exactly things happened, but we also know that Lee’s the kind of person that we may never have the chance to know. I just hope that someday he will tell the story, and it will be truthful.”?

Judge Lester sentenced Christensen to an indeterminate period of prison time not to exceed 50 years.

Judge Lester turned custody of Christensen over to the Iowa Department of Corrections, and ordered the Emmet County Sheriff’s office to transport Christensen to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale for processing.

In addition to ordering Christensen to pay $150,000 to the heirs of Thomas Bortvit, Christensen was ordered to pay all court costs and to pay $27,669.08 to the crime victim’s assistance fund as previously ordered for pecuniary damages.

Judge Lester detailed Christensen’s right to appeal, and the fact that the appeal must be filed and served within 30 days.

Judge Lester asked Christensen if he had any questions about his sentence.

“I?do not, your honor,”?Christensen said.