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Judge hears arguments on Drew Blahnik's motion for a new trial

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Linn County judge hears arguments on Drew Blahnik's motion for a new trial on the day he was to be sentenced after his conviction for the murder of Chris Bagley.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) -- Linn County Judge Christopher Bruns heard arguments today on a motion for a new trial for Drew Blahnik, but is waiting on a no-show witness' testimony for a final decision.

It was supposed to be the day he was sentenced for second-degree murder, obstruction of prosecution and abuse of a corpse in the 2018 killing of Chris Bagley.

The jury in this case deliberated over two full days in July.  There were talks of a possible mistrial as one juror was reportedly the hold-out, causing the jury to ask the judge for more instruction.  It was that instruction -- called an Allen charge -- and the exasperation of the jurors that the defense argued warranted a new trial.

In his pleadings, defense attorney Leon Spies said the court erred in not granting Blahnik's motion for acquittal after the prosecution presented its evidence. Today, he stood on those points and said there was "insufficient evidence" to warrant the case going to the jury.

Monica Slaughter is the Assistant Linn County Attorney, who was part of a team of three who prosecuted this case.

"The issues as to what evidence would or not be admitted were fully litigated in trial. I think the case law, specifically, rules of evidence, were in support of our position on that and the judge agreed and the evidence was let in, as it should be," Slaughter said.

Spies also said the judge was coercive in issuing the Allen charge -- a verdict-urging instruction to the jury.

Jerry Vander Sanden is the  Linn County Attorney who led the prosecution.

"The judge was very careful in the language that he used in that instruction.  He used the very language that's been met with approval by appellate courts in the past."

There was one witness who was subpoenaed to testify today who was unable to appear.  Judge Bruns ruled the remainder of the hearing will take place when that witness is available. 

The Court asked both parties to cite similar cases regarding the defense's arguments about the judge's instructions to the jury. The prosecution maintains that if jurors had felt coerced to come to a verdict, they had an opportunity to say that when they delivered their verdict.

Blahnik faces up to 50 years in prison if his conviction stands.  Two other defendants made plea deals in connection to Bagley's murder -- Drew Wagner and Paul Hoff.