Closing arguments made in Drew Blahnik murder trial

It is now up to a jury to decide whether Drew Blahnik is guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Chris Bagley.
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 11:32 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Without calling a single witness of their own, the defense has rested its case in the Drew Blahnik murder trial.

Defense attorney Leon Spies made the announcement first thing Monday morning at the Linn County Courthouse. The jury reconvened Monday afternoon to listen to jury instructions and closing arguments.

On Friday, the prosecution rested its case after reading through a transcript of Blahnik’s 2019 grand jury testimony. During that testimony, Blahnik admitted to stabbing Chris Bagley to death in December of 2018, but he claimed he acted in self-defense. Blahnik said Bagley pulled out a gun during an altercation with Drew Wagner and he felt both his life and Wagner’s life were in danger. He also pointed to the training he received while serving in the Army, calling his reaction, “muscle memory.”

In total, the jury heard from 13 witnesses on behalf of the prosecution throughout the trial. The first witness was Bagley’s wife Courtney who admitted her husband struggled with drugs but that he wanted to get help.

“He said I don’t want to do this, I want to be normal please help me. And we started to look at rehab facilities for him,” Courtney told the jury.

The next witness was Deputy John Schuchmann who worked for the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.

“I was called in regards to a missing person from that address in Walker,” Schuchmann said. He helped Courtney Bagley file the missing persons report when Chris went missing in December of 2018.

The third witness of the trial was Morgan Kukla, a Cedar Rapids Police Officer. Kukla was dispatched to a report of an assault in October 2018. She met with Andy Shaw who was injured from an alleged assault by Chris Bagley.

“He stated that he was assaulted at his business which was located at 1190 Capital Drive SW,” Kukla testified. She went to the business to investigate and found damage to the door including a bullet hole. When she asked Shaw if she could go inside to investigate, he told her no. “I found it odd that he would not allow us to go investigate the scene of the crime,” Kukla told the jury.

The state then called Deputy Jim Tindal. Tindal responded to a road rage incident between Shaw and Bagley in 2018. He said he pulled over Shaw’s orange Camaro and Shaw claimed Bagley forced him off the road and then damaged his vehicle with a gun. Tindal then pulled over Bagley’s vehicle and asked him if he had a gun. Bagley said he did not have a gun and officers did not find one when they patted him down.

“We tried to get permission to search the vehicle for the weapon, he refused,” Tindal told the jury. Shaw told police he would come down to the station to file a police report but he never showed up.

The fifth witness of the trial was Deputy Chris Smith. Smith also responded to the road rage incident between Shaw and Bagley. He spoke with Bagley during the traffic stop.

“He told me that he had been feuding with Mr. Shaw. That he had taken some money from him and owed Mr. Shaw a large sum of money, that’s why he was after him and that’s what was going on,” Smith told the jury. He then helped investigate Bagley’s disappearance in December of 2018. He said law enforcement was trying to find Paul Hoff because they thought he was the last to see Bagley alive.

The next witness was Corissa Lynn Marti. Marti was in a relationship with Paul Hoff and was at his trailer the night Bagley went missing. She testified that she was high on meth when Bagley showed up at the trailer with a woman named Lydia Oline. Marti said Bagley was showing Hoff a gun.

“It was silver and black,” Marti told the jury. Marti testified that Bagley and Oline left the trailer after a bit, and that Bagley returned by himself later with a black duffle bag. She said Bagley had a blow torch and a test tube in the duffle bag which were used to do meth. Marti said that she did meth with Bagley before she left the trailer and went home.

The jury then heard from Lydia Oline who was with Bagley the night he went missing. She testified that Bagley never had a gun.

“Chris did not have a firearm that night,” Oline said.

Oline said that she and Chris went to Paul Hoff’s trailer and were talking about beating someone up but there was never an actual plan to do so. Oline said Bagley walked her to her car at one point and told her that she should go home, and that she should call him in a couple hours. Before she left, Oline said Bagley took an axe from her car. Oline testified that she tried to call Bagley later, but he never answered. She said she was worried the next morning when she realized people were looking for him.

The second day of testimony started with Drew Wagner being called to the stand. He originally faced the same charges as Blahnik but he’s since plead guilty to some criminal charges relating to Bagley’s death as part of a plea deal. Wagner’s plea agreement also required him to testify against Blahnik in this trial. In total, he faces 47 years in prison, for drugs and his role in the crime. Wagner will be sentenced in August.

“Andy (Shaw) was a large-scale marijuana trafficker,” Wagner explained to the jury. He said Shaw’s shop on Capital Drive is where he would distribute drugs. Wagner testified that Bagley had stolen from Shaw on multiple occasions including cash, drugs, and personal property.

“I think Andy quoted the second one at $75,000-$100,000,” Wagner told the jury.

Wagner said he witnessed a conversation between Blahnik and Shaw regarding Chris Bagley.

“Andy said something about killing Chris for something grand,” Wagner testified.

He described getting roped into Blahnik’s plan to kill Bagley.

“He said he needed to handle something for Andy,” Wagner said.

Wagner said Blahnik asked him to call Paul Hoff and see if he was with Bagley.

“I called Paul, I was thinking about fake dialing it but he told me to put it on speaker, so I put it on speaker. And the first or second thing out of his mouth was that he was hanging out with Chris,” Wagner said. “I was afraid of what might happen,” he told the jury.

He said the two went to Hoff’s trailer knowing Bagley was there and they had a plan to mess him up. Wagner said he was instructed to talk with Hoff in a separate room while Blahnik killed Bagley, but if he heard Blahnik laugh he was supposed to come out, and in that case, they were just going to jump him instead. Wagner said he heard Blahnik laugh so he and Hoff came out.

“I walked back in there was a totally different vibe in the room, you know they were both laughing, talking back and forth,” Wagner said.

Wagner claimed Bagley was talking about going to rob a group known as the ‘slew crew.’ He said he told Bagley the idea was stupid and that discussion about robberies turned into Bagley bragging about his robberies of Shaw.

“I made a split decision to bum rush him so I charged at him,” Wagner said.

He told the jury that he and Chris got into a physical altercation when he heard Blahnik yell, “gun, gun!”

“I did not see the gun on him, he did not pull the gun on me,” Wagner explained.

Wagner said the gun was on the floor and that he never saw Bagley reach for it. During the fight, Wagner said Blahnik began to stab Bagley.

“I turned back around and I see the defendant have Chris by his hair and like a punching motion, I learned later, a stabbing motion,” Wagner said.

Wagner claimed he is the one who wanted to call the police but that Blahnik and Hoff did not want to. He also said it was Blahnik and Hoff who moved Bagley’s body into his truck through a window in the trailer. He admitted he put a piece of plywood over the body and drove the truck back to his home on Soutter Avenue SE.

Wagner testified that he told Shaw about the murder and Shaw’s response was, “something along the lines of ‘oh my gosh he really did it.’” Wagner testified Shaw then gave him 10 bundles of cash worth around $10,000 to give to Blahnik as well as thousands of dollars in drugs. Wagner said Shaw also gave him drugs to give to Paul Hoff. He testified that Blahnik told him he would take care of Bagley’s body in Wisconsin.

Instead, Wagner said he came home one day to find Blahnik and Hoff had buried Bagley’s body in his yard without permission.

“He said that Paul had wanted to kill me and he came up with a way for me to live I guess, by burying the body at my house,” Wagner told the jury.

The 9th witness of the trial was Shane Hoffner. Hoffner was given Wagner’s pickup truck that was used to transport Bagley’s body. He testified that Wagner had 4-5 trucks at the time, but gave him that one.

The next witness was Paul Hoff. Hoff said he met Bagley in May or June of 2018.

“I was selling meth at the time and I just met him in business,” Hoff said. Hoff told the jury that he and Bagley became friends through spending time together. He testified that Bagley had robbed Andy Shaw on more than one occasion. This included a robbery Hoff admitted he helped with, where Bagley took around 200 THC cartridges and $26,000 cash from Shaw’s shop on Capital Drive.

Hoff said the night Bagley was killed, he had come to his trailer with Lydia Oline and the two were trying to get him to go on a robbery.

“Chris was like come on man this is going to be a good one,” Hoff explained.

Hoff said he and Marti were doing meth and hanging out at the time, Marti eventually left.

Around 4 a.m. Hoff said it was just he and Bagley left at the trailer when Drew Wagner called to ask if Bagley was there.

“Chris was standing right in front of me, I was like yeah he’s right here,” Hoff explained.

Within a couple of minutes, Hoff testified that Blahnik and Wagner showed up at his trailer.

“Wagner says let me holler at you real quick, and we go back to the front bedroom to talk,” Hoff said. He testified that Wagner told him they were going to mess Bagley up. “I didn’t think it was going to escalate to what it did, I thought there would be a little fight or something and it would be over with,” Hoff said.

Hoff told the jury that Wagner and Bagley got into a fight over robberies when Blahnik jumped in and started stabbing Bagley.

“Wagner’s kind of got him around the body but that’s when Blahnik stood up and he pulled the knife out of the back of his pants,” Hoff said. He told the jury he stood 5 feet away while Blahnik stabbed Bagley several times in the side, stomach, chest, and neck. Hoff testified that it was Wagner and Blahnik who buried Bagley.

The 11th witness of the trial was Lieutenant Dave Beuter with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. Beuter was the lead investigator in the disappearance and death of Chris Bagley. He searched Hoff’s trailer after Bagley went missing because that was the last place he was known to be.

“It was a mess, there was garbage all over the floor. Walls had been torn out, drywall off the walls, just stuff scattered everywhere,” Beuter told the jury.

Beuter said authorities had an arrest warrant for Paul Hoff on separate charges out of Jones County. When trying to pull Hoff’s vehicle over, Beuter said he ran from police until he got stuck in a pile of snow.

“We were able to open the door up, we tried to get him to comply to come out. He had to be subdued with a Taser,” Beuter said.

An interview with Hoff led investigators to believe that Bagley was killed inside his trailer so they went to search it a second time.

“One of those items that was taken which was a sample of the floor, was later confirmed to have Chris’s DNA in it,” Beuter said.

Investigators also searched Drew Wagner’s home and Drew Blahnik’s apartment in Marion. Beuter described Wagner as “nervous” and said he wanted to talk with authorities when they arrived. At Wagner’s house, authorities found drugs. At Blahnik’s home, investigators found two knives, drugs, and a gun.

The jury then watched a five-hour video of Blahnik’s interview with investigators which took place at the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. For more than four hours, Blahnik denied even being at the trailer the night Bagley went missing. He eventually admitted to stabbing Bagley, telling authorities that Bagley reached for a gun.

“I said that’s self-defense,” Blahnik could be heard saying during the interview.

Beuter then testified about the recovery of Bagley’s body, telling the jury authorities found him buried in Wagner’s snow-covered yard. Beuter said a canoe and some wood had been placed over the area where Bagley’s body was. Investigators rented a ground warmer to warm the ground enough to get Bagley’s body out, more than two months after he went missing.

The 12th witness of the trial was Dr. Kelly Kruse, the Associate State Medical Examiner. Dr. Kruse did Chris Bagley’s autopsy.

“Mr. Bagley did look like his driver’s license because he was well preserved despite the amount of time that went by,” Kruse told the jury.

Kruse walked through the injuries on Bagley’s body, showing the jury pictures. A mannequin was also brought in wearing the clothes Bagley was wearing when he died. Kruse pointed out how holes in the clothing correlated with the injuries to Bagley’s body. She testified that he died of multiple sharp force injuries.

The last witness called to the stand was Al Steil, an investigator with the Linn County Attorney’s Office. Steil was called by the prosecution to read through a transcript of testimony Blahnik gave a grand jury in 2019. At that time Blahnik testified that he heard Drew Wagner yell out “gun” during the fight with Bagley.

“That’s when I reached for the knife and that’s kind of when my muscle memory kind of kicked in,” Blahnik said. “I remember stabbing him in the, like in the side and then stabbing him in the neck.”

Blahnik said he had nothing to do with burying Bagley’s body and that he didn’t know he was buried in Wagner’s yard until he saw it on the news.

“My sort of lifestyle isn’t to go killing people in cold blood and not reporting it to authorities. That’s not me. That’s never been the way I’ve acted my entire life, I have better morals than that,” Blahnik said.

The case is now in the hands of the jury.

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