Johnny Blahnik Church conviction overturned
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The court of appeals has overturned a Cedar Rapids man’s conviction for second-degree murder, in the death of Chris Bagley.
Johnny Blahnik Church (formerly known as Drew Blahnik) was sentenced in December 2021 to 57 years in prison for stabbing Chris Bagley to death in 2018.
His defense filed an appeal saying the district court abused its discretion in giving a verdict-urging instruction on day four of jury deliberations. They argued that the jury’s notes to the court revealed open hostility towards a lone holdout juror and that it was an “abuse of discretion to give instruction.”
During the trial, the jury was given an Allen charge. If jurors remain undecided on a verdict, Allen charges may be issued to the jury pushing them to a vote. In its ruling at the time, the court was skeptical, noting:
“If I give an Allen charge and then we don’t get a verdict and we still have a hung jury, we have a hung jury. If I give an Allen charge and we get a verdict, either I or the Appellate Court, if I shouldn’t have given the Allen charge, can take the verdict away or if it was appropriate to give the charge, leave the verdict standing and we don’t have to try the case again.”
The jury was given the Allen charge nevertheless, and just three and a half hours later, the jury found Church guilty of second-degree murder, as well as obstructing prosecution, and defacing a corpse.
In their decision on the appeal, the court noted “For more than a century, our courts have safeguarded the ‘fundamental right’ of litigants to have their jury trial ‘determined by an unanimous verdict, which has the assent of every member of the panel...’This fundamental right is based on the principle that ‘It is not the purpose of the trial to secure a verdict, but rather the verdict of the jury, in all the fullness of the meaning of the word itself, independently and freely assented to by each member of the panel.”
The judge ruled that the verdict of the jury was prejudiced and thus, overturned.
Blahnik is still serving time on federal drug charges and for beating up a drug informant while in prison.
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