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Prosecution brings witnesses on first day of Jessica Dayton trial


Jessica Dayton is led away from court after the second day of her trial in Marengo. (Photo by Brian Ray, Gazette)

Prosecution in the Jessica Dayton first-degree murder trial began witness testimony Wednesday, April 21, in Iowa County District Court.

Dayton, 19, Belle Plaine, is accused of killing Curtis Bailey, 33, Marengo, on July 18, 2009. Jacob Hilgendorf, Belle Plaine, and Denise Frei, Marengo, are also charged with first-degree murder in connection with the case.

Dayton pleaded not guilty.

Assistant state attorney Douglas Hammerand made the opening statement for the prosecution Wednesday morning.

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” Hammerand said.

He claimed Dayton and Frei had a plan to get Curtis Bailey drunk, and when he passed out, they would give him a fatal overdose. However, “everything went wrong when Curtis Bailey woke up.”

Hammerand said the evidence will show that Dayton dropped a landscaping rock on Bailey’s head three or four times.

Giving some background, Hammerand said Bailey lived in Marengo at 220 W. Main St. with Denise Frei, his girlfriend. Bailey purchased the Lincoln Café, Belle Plaine, and Frei worked there. Jessica Dayton also worked at the Lincoln Café as a waitress, and she fell in love with Frei’s 20-year-old son, Jacob Hilgendorf, Hammerand said.


On or about July 6, 2009, Dayton met with her “best friend,” Alexandra Musel. Musel, who said she has known Dayton since the fourth grade, was questioned by the prosecution Wednesday, and was cross-examined by Dayton’s attorney, Douglas Eichholz.

Musel, who said she never met Hilgendorf, said Dayton loved Hilgendorf, even though they weren’t technically dating.

“They had some sort of relationship,” Musel said. She said Dayton was a good person, and an honor roll student in high school and participated in several school activities, such as band and volleyball.

Said Dayton’s attorney Eichholz, “I assume as her best friend, that you knew Jess considered herself bisexual.”

“Yes,” Musel said.

Musel said she and Dayton went to the gym that day last July, and Dayton was very “fidgety.” She said she had to tell Musel something, but she couldn’t.

“Who am I going to tell?” Musel said.

“I think I have to help someone kill someone,” Dayton told her, according to Musel’s testimony. “I may have to help D kill Curt.”

When Musel asked her why, she said Dayton said it was because Curtis Bailey was “mean and evil.” Musel said Bailey at one point made an unwanted sexual advance toward Dayton, but he was unsuccessful.

While working out in the gym, Musel said Dayton told her she knew how to commit the perfect crime. She said they could get someone drunk, put something in their drink, such as Nyquil, and then take to them to the top of the stairs and drop them from the top.

Upon cross examination from Eichholz, Musel said she was not overly concerned by Dayton’s comments because she had made similar comments before, but never about Curtis Bailey.

“Is Miss Dayton full of drama?” Eichholz said.

“She is a little dramatic,” Musel said.

“So it did not shock you. You had heard her say silly statements before. You didn’t believe her,” Eichholz said.

“No,” said Musel.

“She is not the type of person to kill someone,” Eiccholz said.

“No,” said Musel.


Hammerand also brought Elisha Runyan, another former Lincoln Café waitress, to the stand. Runyan said she was best friends with Jacob Hilgendorf, good friends with Denise Frei, and she was an acquaintance of Jessica Dayton.

Runyan said on July 14 while in the kitchen of the Lincoln Café alone with Frei, Frei told her that “her and Jess were going to try again on Saturday.”

According to the search warrants, Denise Frei had allegedly attempted to kill Curtis Bailey with an insulin injection during the Fourth of July weekend. The attempt was unsuccessful, and Bailey had thought he had a heart attack.

Runyan said Frei told her that she was going to pay Dayton and Hilgendorf $5,000 a piece to help her kill Bailey.

Part of the plan was that Saturday night, Frei was going to drink at work, so she would have a reason for Dayton to drive her home, Runyan said.

“So by Denise drinking, then she has a good reason to force Miss Dayton to drive her home?”Eichholz asked.

“Yes,” said Runyan.

The morning of Saturday, July 18, Runyan said Frei called her up at home and asked her to come to the café. Runyan said that Frei wanted to tell her the plan.

“She sounded excited,” Runyan said. “They were going to try to overdose Curt. She said they had a plan and it was going to go well.”

Runyan said Hilgendorf lived with her up until about three weeks or a month prior to the killing. At the time of the slaying, she said Hilgendorf was living with Denise Templeton, Amana. The night of Saturday, July 18, Runyan said she was at the Templeton residence with Denise Templeton and Hilgendorf. She said they sat around the fire pit. Runyan said she did not drink that night, but “we smoked some marijuana.”

Runyan said she stayed for a few hours and left when it started to get dark. Templeton and Hilgendorf were still at the house, she said.

The next morning around 10 a.m., Runyan said she received a phone call from Jessica Dayton.

“She was whispering. She said she was in the restroom at the jail,” Runyan said. “She said, ‘We did it. Everything went wrong. Everything went wrong.’”

Dayton asked Runyan to go to Jacob’s Ford Explorer, parked in Templeton’s garage, and remove the evidence, Runyan said. Runyan said she told Dayton no.

Upon cross examination, Eichholz revealed that when Runyan first spoke with law enforcement officials July 20, she denied knowing any of the people involved.

Runyan said she was afraid she would “end up in the same position they were.” During a second interview with investigators in August, Runyan told the story she recanted in the courtroom. When asked why she changed her story, Runyan said, “It’s best the truth came out and I was told I would not be in the same position.”

Eichholz pointed out that in Runyan’s second interview with investigators, she said that Dayton said, “They did it,” not “We did it.”

Eichholz asked Runyan why on Aug. 11, she said “They did it,” and now, after more time has passed, she changed the comment to “We did it.”

“It just comes to you one day, like a light bulb over your head?” Eichholz said. “I don’t remember,” Runyan said.


The day Curtis Bailey died, he was exceptionally happy at work, said Scott Pennebaker, owner of Pennebaker Construction. Pennebaker Construction mostly does concrete work, and Curtis Bailey worked for Pennebaker for 10 years.

They were working a job the morning of July 18 in Cedar Rapids, and engaged in casual conversation, Pennebaker said.

“We were talking laughing. Always laughing. He was bouncing around,” Pennebaker said.

He said he told Bailey to save his energy because they still had 300 feet to go. In turn, Bailey told Pennebaker, “It’s on tonight. I am going to have that menage-a-trois we talked about.” According to Pennebaker’s testimony, Bailey told him that Denise Frei had set up a “three-way” with a waitress from the restaurant. For every sex act the ladies performed, Bailey said that he was supposed to take a shot of whiskey, Pennebaker said.

When asked which waitress Bailey was referring to, Pennebaker said, “He said Jessica from the restaurant.” Pennebaker said he told Bailey that he would not be able to stay awake.

“He just laughed,” Pennebaker said.


As part of his opening statement Hammerand described how he believed the death of Curtis Bailey came about.

Hammerand said Bailey was under the impression that he was going home to have a three-way sexual encounter with Denise Frei and Jessica Dayton. Instead, they planned to get Bailey drunk and have him pass out, Hammerand said. When Curt was passed out, they were going to kill him, he said.

The evidence will show that between 11:30 and 11:45 p.m., Jacob Hilgendorf left Templeton’s home and went to Bailey’s house, Hammerand said.

After Hilgendorf arrived at the scene, Hammerand said Curt woke up. A fight erupted between Bailey and Hilgendorf, he said. During the struggle, Dayton picked up a landscaping rock and dropped it on Bailey’s head three or four times, Hammerand said. Then Hilgendorf picked up the rock and pounded Bailey’s head until he was dead, he said.

The autopsy of Curtis Bailey showed that Bailey was hit at least 11 times in the head, and it could have been more than 30 times, Hammerand said.

He said Dayton and Hilgendorf put the evidence in Jacob’s Ford Explorer and drove to Denise Templeton’s house. They parked the vehicle in the detached garage. Templeton woke up and found Dayton and Hilgendorf around the fire pit. She noted that the fire had been rekindled and Dayton was wearing some of her clothes. Dayton said she had vomited and needed to take a shower.

While Dayton was in the shower, Hammerand said that Hilgendorf told Templeton, “Things did not go according to plan.”


After Dayton and Hilgendorf left Bailey’s house early July 19, Frei called the police, Hammerand said. First on the scene was Marengo Police Officer Tony Cavanaugh. The second officer to arrive was Iowa County Sheriff’s Deputy Nathan Hatfield.

Cavanaugh said he received the 911 call for an assault at approximately 1:48 a.m. When he arrived, in under a minute, Denise Frei was sitting on the front steps. She was the only one at the house, Cavanaugh said.

With Frei, he went inside the home and found Bailey’s body inside the living room. Cavanaugh said Bailey’s chest was not moving, and due to the seriousness of the wounds, it was apparent Bailey was dead.

Cavanaugh said he escorted Frei outside and prepared the area for a crime scene. According to his testimony, Hatfield said that when he arrived on the scene he noticed the blood surrounding Bailey was dark, and had coagulated. He said that he had been on the scene of another murder case within 15 minutes of the act, and the blood was fresh, like a paper cut.

At the Bailey murder scene, Hatfield said the blood was gelatinous.

Pictures of the crime scene were published for the jury. Hatfield noted that Bailey was sprawled on the living room floor, lying on his back. He was lying between the couch and a coffee table. He was wearing a white T-shirt and red, multi-colored pants. Hatfield said that Bailey’s toes were curled under his feet and his fingertips were white. The back and the top of his head had been crushed.

“He look like he was, cringed,” Hatfield said. Hatfield said he contacted the Department of Criminal Investigation and began taping off the crime scene in order to secure the area.


Iowa County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Tim Walters was called to the stand. Walters said he arrived at the sheriff’s office July 19 at about 3:30 a.m. and began questioning Denise Frei at approximately 4:30 a.m. The interview lasted for about four hours, he said.

At 7:49 a.m., Walters said he had Frei call Jessica Dayton’s cell phone. Dayton did not answer. Dayton called the sheriff’s office back at 7:52 a.m. and she agreed to come in for an interview.

Dayton and Hilgendorf drove to the sheriff’s office in Templeton’s Dodge Neon. Hammerand said that when asked why they drove Templeton’s car instead of Hilgendorf’s Ford Explorer, Dayton said the Explorer was low on gas. Hammerand said that when the Explorer was checked, it had half a tank of gas.

According to Dayton’s interview, Hammerand said she claimed to have been at Bailey’s house with Bailey and Frei that night. Dayton said they were drinking and Curt drank a lot. Hammerand said, according to Dayton’s interview, she texted to Hilgendorf to pick her up at about 1 a.m. She and Hilgendorf then stayed up talking at Templeton’s house. Hammerand said Dayton left out one detail in her interview. She told investigators she did not have her cell phone with her.

However, after the interview, Hammerand said Dayton went to the sheriff’s public bathroom. Evidence will show that, using her cell phone, Dayton then called Elisha Runyan and asked her to retrieve the evidence from the Ford Explorer, Hammerand said.

Later, around noon, Hammerand said Dayton called Templeton. Investigators, including Tim Walters, happened to be at the Templeton residence at that time.

Dayton was on speaker phone at first, before she requested that Templeton take her off speaker phone, Hammerand said.

He said that Dayton told Templeton “do not let them search the Ford Explorer.”

The Explorer was searched, Hammerand said. In the front seat area, investigators discovered a garbage bag full of bloody towels and a landscaping rock, that also had blood on it. Hammerand said the blood tested out to be Curtis Bailey’s. He said pieces of cloth were also found in the fire pit.

There were pieces of plastic wrap in the Explorer, Hammerand said. He said two empty boxes of plastic wrap were found in the Bailey home.

Dayton’s fingerprints were found on one of the boxes, Hammerand said. Dayton’s fingerprints were also discovered on a vodka bottle found in the Bailey home, he said.


Walters said that Nov. 17, he was approached by Iowa County Jail Administrator Jeff Krotz about an inmate. Walters interviewed the inmate, who was sharing a cell with Dayton, Dec. 3.

The cellmate said that she spoke with Dayton following a meeting Dayton had with her attorney, Eichholz.

“The inmate said the defendant shared information with her related to the murder,” Walters said.

Walters said he reviewed the video tape that took place during the time Walters believed the interaction to take place. The video did not have any audio.

“Essentially, you were told Miss Dayton had an interview with myself, came back to the cell and confessed,” Eichholz said.

Eichholz did not make an opening statement April 21. Testimony in the Jessica Dayton trial will continue Thursday, April 22.

Jacob Hilgendorf and Denise Frei were scheduled to go to trial May 18. Frei's trial was continued to Jan. 11, 2011, with a pretrial conference set for Dec. 13, 2010, in an order signed by Judge Denver Dillard on April 7.

Dayton Trial - Day 2


UPDATED April 25, 2010 12:20 PM

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