Estherville, Iowa — A new trial has been requested in the case of an Estherville teen who is accused of killing another teen, also from Estherville.
Legal counsel for 19-year old Lee Christensen says Christensen’s Iowa and US Constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process of law were violated in the trial due to a number of factors.
Christensen was being tried for the murder of 19-year old Thomas Bortvit of Estherville. Bortvit’s family reported him missing on June 6th of last year, and Estherville authorities, along with the help of volunteers, searched the southern portion of Estherville. Police and Emmet County Sheriff’s officers located Bortvit’s body late the next afternoon, and immediately launched an investigation into his disappearance and death, which resulted in the arrest of Christensen.
The motion asserts that among other reasons, he deserves a new trial because: Due to parent-child privilege, Christensen’s parents shouldn’t have had to testify against him. It says a witness implied that Christensen had an opportunity to prove his innocence; and that the court told jurors to disregard the testimony, but that was insufficient to purge the prejudice. The court also explained or characterized another witness’s testimony, but that too was insufficient, says the motion. It also says that one of the jurors should have been removed after it was revealed that the juror told others outside of the courtroom that Christensen was guilty and the juror would not change his or her mind. The motion also says the jury was exposed to and influenced by social media comments made in Estherville that riots might occur if the verdict came back as anything but guilty to first degree murder.
Christensen’s counsel has also filed a motion to poll the jury as to their exposure to social media or community comments about threats of public disorder or violence and impact on jury deliberations.
The court has yet to rule on the two motions.
Christensen’s sentencing on the 2nd Degree Murder Charge had been set for 9:30 am on Friday, September 16th, in Emmet County District Court at Estherville. 2nd Degree Murder is a Class B Felony, and is punishable by up to 50 years in prison.