Jury still undecided, Lee Christensen trial continues

Thursday, June 30, 2016
PHOTO BY MATT HEINRICHS / An Emmet County jury will return Friday as the Lee Christensen trial continues. The group of 10 women and two men spent 6 1/2 hours trying to decide the case Thursday.

An Emmet County jury deliberated for 6 1/2 hours Thursday but have yet to reach a verdict in the Lee Christensen murder trial.

The 10 women and two men received the case at 1:15 p.m. and continued their work until about 7:45 p.m. in Estherville.

The day started with jury instructions from Judge David Lester. He told the panel they would have five options on their verdict ballot: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and not guilty.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Coleman McAllister and defense attorney Leon Spies agreed in their closing arguements that Christensen fatally shot 19-year-old Thomas Bortvit on June 6, 2015.

McAllister thinks the crime warrants a first-degree murder charge because the act was "premeditated, deliberate and willful." Spies said he is representing a client who was humiliated and lonely when he got a ride home from Bortvit on the day of the murder.

"There is no doubt Lee Christensen shot and killed Thomas Bortvit, but he is not guilty of murder in the first degree," Spies said.

Spies argues that the shooting was a sudden, violent and irresistible act of passion because Bortvit was seeing Christensen's ex-girlfriend. Spies showed the jury entries from Christensen's journal including "I wish I had never existed," "My best friend just said [expletive] off and chose love over friendship. I have never felt so worthless in my life." and "It's time for me to leave you alone."

Christensen's frustration, Spies argues, led to an unexpected and fatal act on the night of the murder.

Prosecutors say the case is about decisions and consequences. McAllister told a jury that Christensen planned his attack earlier in the day, hid a .45 pistol at a machine shed on the Christensen farm and scouted a location to conceal the body.

The jury will return to the Emmet County Courthouse at 9 a.m. Friday.

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