The trial of a Fairbank man who is facing a charge of first-degree murder will take place starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Bremer County Courthouse after 11 delays.
But due to the pandemic, the proceedings are taking place under COVID-19 protocols, as per the presiding judge’s order. Only the judge, attorneys, defendant and witnesses are expected to be in the courtroom, but the public can access the trial online.
Daniel Gail Niebuhr, 60, is accused of killing Brock Niebuhr, 36, of Dike, in the elder Niebuhr’s rural-Fairbank home on March 22, 2019. Buchanan County dispatchers originally received the 911 call and forwarded the incident to Bremer County, as the farmstead is located there.
Due to a recent order by the Iowa Judicial Branch, all new jury trials were delayed until at least Feb. 1 citing the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections. About half of the postponements for the Niebuhr case were due to the virus, as well, while others were for evidentiary discovery.
This case will be a bench trial with no jury. There will also be no spectators in the courtroom, based on an order issued Nov. 10 by District Court Judge DeDra Schroeder.
Schroeder will hold the hearing in the courtroom with it livestreamed via Zoom. The judge will provide a link to the attorneys — Bremer County Attorney Kasey Wadding and defense attorneys Chad Frese and Jennifer Frese of Kaplan & Freese LLP — as well as the clerk of court for distribution to spectators.
The Zoom link for the trial is https://iowacourts.zoomgov.com/j/1610917416?pwd=MzNpbEJsUHpsdGZwYjk5dElUeTh2UT09.
In Judge Schroeder’s order, there were other pandemic-related rules instituted for this case. First, all witnesses are asked to remain in their vehicles until contacted to enter the courthouse for their testimony and then leave upon conclusion.
After each witness, the attorney who calls them is responsible for sanitizing the witness stand, chair and microphone before the next one is called. The attorneys are also responsible for wiping down their own counsel table and microphone.
Attorneys are also discouraged from approaching the bench, witness stand and the court reporter. Instead, they are asked to “utilize the technology available to present exhibits to witnesses” while “remain[ing] seated during the presentation of evidence and opening and closing statements.”
All exhibits that will be presented by Wadding and the defense are to be uploaded to the court’s computer system, and bench copies of the exhibits will not be accepted. Anyone in the court area must be wearing masks at all times, practice the 6-foot physical distancing and not be present if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms.
In addition to the murder case, the victim’s widow, Lauren, has also sued Niebuhr for wrongful death. This trial has been postponed to a date to be determined.