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Christensen appeal

By Staff | Sep 22, 2017

After months of delay from the Iowa Attorney General’s office, both Lee Samuel Christensen and the state of Iowa have filed their proof briefs in Christensen’s appeal of his conviction of murder in the second degree.

Christensen’s attorney, Leon Spies of Iowa City, requested oral argument.

Assistant Attorney General Kelli Huser filed the brief for the state. Huser said, “The State believes oral argument is unnecessary to decide this case and will not be of assistance to the Court.”

An Emmet County jury convicted Christensen July 1, 2016 in the shooting death of Thomas Lee Bortvit on June 6, 2015. Christensen is currently serving a 50-year sentence at Anamosa State Penitentiary while awaiting appeal.

The questions on appeal center around whether Judge David Lester, presiding over the Emmet County trial court, abused his discretion when he determined Christensen failed to show juror bias or misconduct.

During the trial, Spies twice requested a mistrial, once due to alleged prosecutor misconduct when Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister asked investigator Tara Scott whether clippings of Bortvit’s fingernails could have been acquired for testing of the presence of DNA material by the defense. The second occurrence was over the testimony of state criminalist Peter Wagner’s inconsistent testimony relating to the use of a metal detector at the crime scene.

The defense also requested the removal of a juror, who was alleged to have stated in the weekend between the two weeks of trial that she was sure Christensen was guilty. When the juror was questioned in chambers, the judge was sufficiently satisfied that the juror remained unbiased.

Christensen filed a motion for a new trial after he was convicted, but before his sentencing Dec. 21, 2016. He also requested a jury poll, which happened Oct. 18, 2016. Judge Lester denied the motion for a new trial and sentenced Christensen to 50 years of prison, the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder.

Spies concludes, “While no criminal defendant Lee Christensen included is entitled to a perfect trial, he is without question entitled to a fair trial. Lee Samuel Christensen respectfully asserts that the errors detailed above, either individually or given their cumulative effect, so deprived him of fundamental fairness that he is entitled to a new trial.