Nav Bar NEW

Check our new test website


The front page



The prosecution wrapped up their case in the Jessica Dayton trial Friday, April 23, in Iowa County District Court. Assistant state attorney Douglas Hammerand presented audio of Daytons’s interview with special agents, autopsy photos of Curtis Bailey and an alleged jailhouse confession.

Dayton, 20, 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.

The prosecution’s star witness Friday was Heather Szakacs, Keystone. Szakacs was Dayton’s cell mate for three months last fall. She was serving a five month sentence for a forgery charge in Benton County. Szakacs had been convicted of two previous forgery charges as well as credit card fraud. She currently is serving three years probation and lives in halfway house.

In her first four or five days in Iowa County Jail, Szakacs shared a cell with Denise Frei. However, Szakacs said she used Frei’s phone car, which she found sitting on top of the telephone. Szakacs said she believed the phone card was available for anyone to use.

The infraction caused Szakacs to be moved to the other female cell in the Iowa County Jail. Her new cellmate was Jessica Dayton. Szakacs said she got along well with her new cell mate.

“We were fairly close,” she said “She was the same age as my daughter, so I took on a motherly role as well as a friend role.” Szakacs said Dayton did not share details of the case with her, at first. She said Dayton only told her that she was charged with first-degree murder.

That all changed Nov. 17, 2009, she said.

Dayton had a meeting with her attorney, Douglas Eichholz, that day. Szakacs said Dayton was concerned because they were going to look at pictures of the crime scene. When Dayton returned from the meeting, Szakacs said Dayton was emotional. Szakacs said she tried to comfort Dayton. She gave her a hug, and she showed her some pictures she drew.

Dayton then laid down and took about an hour-long nap, Szakacs said. When Dayton awoke, Szakacs said she asked her if she was all right. She said they had a conversation about how disturbing the pictures were.

“She talked about how bloody they were,” Szakacs said.

At that point, Szakacs said Dayton paused, and she said, “I can trust you right?”

“She said, ‘I will tell you what happened.’”


Szakacs said that Dayton told her that she, Jacob Hilgendorf and Denise Frei had a plan in place to kill Curtis Bailey.

The night of July 18, 2009, Dayton was with Bailey and Frei in their Marengo home, and they were drinking alcohol. Later in the evening, Szakacs said she was told that Bailey passed out, and Hilgendorf came over to pick up Jessica.

Bailey did not allo Hilgendorf to be in the house, Szakacs said.

Bailey woke up and found Hilgendorf in the house, she said. An altercation then took place between Hilgendorf and Bailey.

According to Szakacs, Dayton said she panicked and didn’t know what to do, so she went outside to get some fresh air. Once outside, Szakacs said Dayton picked up a landscaping rock from the front yard. She went back inside.

According to Szakacs, once back inside, Dayton found that Hilgendorf had wrestled Bailey to the floor. Dayton dropped the landscaping rock, about the size of a football, on Bailey’s head three or four times, Szakacs said.

“She didn’t know what else to do. She was freaked out by the situation,” Szakacs said. Hilgendorf then used the rock to continuously strike Bailey in the head, she said. Bailey became motionless, and apparently dead.

“She said that everything was kind of a blur,” Szakacs said. “They panicked.” Szakacs said the trio cleaned up the scene, throwing everything they could in a “black” garbage bag and put the bag in Hilgendorf’s truck.

Once Jessica and Jacob left, she said Denise Frei called the police. While driving, Dayton and Hilgendorf got into an argument, Szakacs said. She said that Jessica wanted to get rid of the evidence right away and Hilgendorf just wanted to go home.

Dayton was concerned about the garbage bag, and she was worried that fingerprints could be found on the evidence, Szakacs said.

According to Szakacs, Dayton also told her she was worried about a phone call she made from her cell phone while at the sheriff’s office July 19. Szakacs said Dayton was worried about a phone call she made to a girl named Elisha (Runyan). Dayton told Szakacs that Runyan knew information about their plan and she knew that Frei had made a previous attempt on Bailey’s life. Szakacs also made a statement that the night of the murder wasn’t the night of the actual plan. She said the killing was supposed to happen the next night, Sunday, July 19.

Szakacs said Dayton was unemotional while confessing her alleged role in the murder of Curtis Bailey. She said Dayton was “just telling a story. Just a normal conversation.” “She just always played it off that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Szakacs said. “She didn’t believe she would do much time for it.”

Hammerand asked why Szakacs decided to tell law enforcement officersabout the alleged confession.

“I have always been a believer, that everything I have done wrong, there is a consequence. So I felt I had to let somebody know,” Szakacs said. “It was just upsetting to know the information, that somebody could do that to somebody... It’s the right thing to do. I am a firm believer that you get punished for what you do wrong.”

Under cross examination from Dayton’s attorney Eichholz, Szakacs said that she had limited knowledge of the Curtis Bailey murder case prior to meeting Jessica Dayton.

Eichholz also brought up the fact that while in Iowa County Jail, Szakacs had been disciplined for writing a four page “love note” to one of the Iowa County jailers.

He also asked Szakacs if during her time in the cell with Denise Frei, if Frei ever commented about the case.

Szakacs said that Frei told her she was willing to do a life sentence in order to let Hilgendorf and Dayton off.

Eichholz also asked Szakacs if she knew where Dayton kept her court records. Szakacs said she believed Dayton kept her records in a tube in the cell they shared. Upon redirect, Hammerand asked Szakacs if she ever read the papers

located in the tub.

“No,” Szakacs said.


The morning of July 19, Dayton was interviewed by special agents Darrell Simmons and Jagat Sandhu of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

Simmons said the interview lasted approximately one hour. He said Dayton appeared to be nervous and scared, and was a little shy with investigators.

An audio recording of the interview was played for the jury April 23.

According to the interview, Dayton identified herself as Jessica Anne Dayton of Belle Plaine. Her birth date is Jan. 6, 1990.

Dayton said she worked as a waitress at the Lincoln Café, Belle Plaine, and had worked there for almost two years. She said she usually works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The morning of Saturday, July 18, 2009, Dayton said she woke up at about 5 a.m. and walked to work at about 5:45 a.m. She said that she and Denise Frei were the only ones working that morning, as is usually the case. A dishwasher usually comes in later, but that morning the dishwasher called in sick, Dayton said. So that Saturday, Dayton and Frei were the only two people working until a second waitress came in at 2 p.m.

Dayton said she left the café at 2 p.m. and went home to her apartment. She said she pretty much just watched TV for a while. She said she lives with her brother Jonathan Dayton, but he was away visiting their grandmother that day.

Jessica said she returned to the café at 6 p.m when it closed. Frei had started drinking, Dayton said. She probably had two drinks, but Dayton said Frei still insisted that Dayton drive her home.

They stopped at the Casey’s General Store in Belle Plaine and Dayton said she bought Pepto-Bismol and cigarettes. From Casey’s, she said they drove straight to Denise Frei’s house in Marengo. The arrived there around 7 p.m.

Curtis Bailey was sleeping on the couch, she said, and he was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Dayton said they just stayed at the house and watched movies. She said they watched comedians Jeff Dunham and Larry the Cable Guy. She said she drank “like one” alcoholic beverage. Dayton said Bailey was drinking quite a bit and Frei was not drinking too much.

“She didn’t seem that bad,” Dayton said. She said that Bailey probably drank a 12-pack of Ice House beer. “Curt got, got really trashed and we did smoke weed,” Dayton said.

She said that Bailey was talking about having some friends stop over for a little bit. Dayton said that she does not like Bailey’s friends, calling them “obnoxious.”

“I, um, automatically knew he was probably gonna do something and I’m not much into drugs or alcohol or anything like that. It’s very rare when I do that,” she said. “And so I was kind of wanting to leave. I think Dee maybe knew something was up too.”

Dayton said that Bailey had been having “a lot of weird stuff” lately. She said he suffered something like a stroke and the night of July 18 Bailey was having a weird pain like numbness in his arm. She said he refused to be treated.

“When he’s drinking, we tell him to stop drinking and you know, he’s usually like ‘no, it’s nothing another beer can’t fix,’” Dayton said. Dayton said she didn’t want to be at Bailey’s home when his friends were there, so she said she texted Hilgendorf to come pick her up. She said she sent Hilgendorf several texts throughout the night, and it was at about midnight that she asked him to come pick her up.

“I’m like, I don’t know if I want to be here anymore,” she said. The agents asked Dayton if she had her cell phone with her. “I don’t. Not on me,” she said.

Dayton said Hilgendorf picked her up around 1 a.m. She said she waited for him outside on the front porch area smoking a cigarette. She said Hilgendorf does not go inside the Bailey home because he and Curtis don’t get along.

Dayton said she got in Hilgendorf’s vehicle and they drove straight to Denise Templeton’s house, where Hilgendorf was staying. Dayton said they stayed up and talked for a while before going to sleep at about 3:30 a.m..

She said she was woken up Sunday morning when Frei called her cell phone. Dayton said she doesn’t know what time it was.

The investigators asked Dayton why she drove Templeton’s Neon to the sheriff’s office instead of Hilgendorf’s Explorer. Dayton said the Explorer was out of gas.

They asked Dayton again where her cell phone was. She said it was at Templeton’s house.

Dayton told the investigators she was supposed to work at the café that Sunday morning and had called the café at about 6 a.m. to tell Frei she was not feeling well and would be late.

Dayton said nobody answered the phone at the café, so she left a message.

The investigators asked Dayton where Hilgendorf worked. She said he was a cook at (unintelligible) restaurant. They asked Dayton how long her and Jacob had been together.

“That’s a good question,” Dayton said.

She said she met Hilgendorf through Frei, his mom. She said Hilgendorf started coming into the restaurant and they would hang out. She said they were “friends with benefits.”

The investigators asked Dayton again if she had her cell phone, if it wasn’t in her car. She said no.

Dayton said she received a message from Frei that morning and she called her back at the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office. Dayton said Frei was crying. “She was saying that Curt was dead. That she needs me and Jacob to come down there right now,” Dayton said.

“I just, I’m in shock. It’s hard to think that I’ll never see him,” she said. Special agent Simmons said his next assignment was to go to Denise Templeton’s home and search the premises. While at Templeton’s residence, Simmons said Templeton received a phone call from Dayton, who was on her cell phone.

They told Templeton to put Dayton on speaker phone. Following the phone call, Simmons said they had Templeton make a written statement regarding her conversation with Dayton.

According to the written statement, Dayton told Templeton that if law enforcement look in the Ford Explorer, “We would all be going to jail.”

Simmons said they looked inside the Ford Explorer from the outside, but did not have a search warrant to search the vehicle. He said the vehicle was taken to the Iowa County impound lot.


Testimony was given by Amy Pollpeter, criminologist in the DNA section of DCI criminalistics lab. Pollpeter tested for DNA matches in nearly 80 items of evidence collected in the Bailey murder case.

A complete DNA profile means that there is less than a 1 in 100 billion chance that the DNA matches somebody else. Pollpeter noted there are eight or nine billion people in the world. DNA taken from blood samples found on the following items of evidence tested as positive matches to the known DNA samples of Curtis Bailey, Pollpeter said:

* The landscaping rock found in Hilgendorf’s Ford Explorer.

* The empty box of Shure Fine plastic wrap found in Bailey’s kitchen.

* The empty box of Glad clean wrap found in Bailey’s kitchen.

* A roll of plastic wrap with a large amount of the plastic wrap pulled out recovered in the Ford Explorer.

* A piece of PVC pipe found in the Explorer.

* A pair of size 12 Airwalk tennis shoes found in the Explorer.

* A Crossman BB gun found in the Ford Explorer. The BB gun had blood on the stock portion of the gun and on the end of the barrel, Pollpeter said.

* A greenish colored sweatshirt found in the Ford Explorer. The sweatshirt had a hood that covered the face like a mask.

* A green towel found in the Explorer.

* A sweatshirt found on the front steps of the Bailey home.

* A sock found on the landing of the Bailey home.

* A sock found under the sweatshirt on the landing.

* A set of two swabs taken from the carpet in the Bailey living room.

* Two swabs taken from the stairwell in the entryway of the Bailey home.

* Several glass fragments found on the living room floor.

* A second roll of plastic wrap with part of the plastic pulled out of the roll that was also found in the Explorer. This piece of evidence only had a partial DNA match. Pollpeter said there was a 1 in 700,000 chance that the blood belonged to someone other than Curtis Bailey.

* A plastic bag found in the Ford Explorer had blood that had a partial DNA match to Bailey. The chance that the blood belonged to someone other than Bailey is 1 in 100,000, Pollpeter said.

* Rubber glove found in the Ford Explorer had two contributors of DNA samples, Pollpeter said. Bailey was the major contributor of DNA, she said. Jacob Hilgendorf was the minor contributor. She said there is less than a 1 in 100 billion chance that the DNA belonged to someone other than Hilgendorf.

Pollpeter said a mat of hairs was found on the right arm of Curtis Bailey. One of the hairs was 13-inches long and still had its root, as if it had been pulled out, she said. Pollpeter said she was not able to make a DNA match from the hair.

Karl Franzenburg, a criminologist in the DCI trace evidence lab, said he tested a pile of ashes collected from a fire pit at Denise Templeton’s home. He said two fragments found in the pile of ash  were of cotton material. One of the pieces of evidence was consistent to a terrycloth cotton material, and could have been a towel. Franzenburg said the second material was a cotton material with a denser weave, such as denim or the edge of a towel.


Dr. Jerri McLemore, associate state medical examiner, performed the autopsy on Curtis Bailey. McLemore was the last witness for the prosecution Friday, April 23.

The autopsy on Bailey was performed July 20, 2009, she said. When Bailey’s body arrived at the medical examiners office in Ankeny, he was wearing a white T-shirt and red pajama bottoms with Coca-Cola insignias. McLemore said blood was matted to his hair and was smeared on his arms.

She also noted that clumps of dark and blonde hairs were matted on his neck and shirt.

In addition, a small piece of clear glass was located on the right side of his head, a smaller piece of clear glass was found on the right ear and an even smaller piece of smoky glass was located on  Bailey’s neck. Hammerand asked if the appearance of the glass fragments could be consistent with a glass object being struck to the head.

“They certainly could be,” McLemore said.

There were obvious blunt force injuries and a lot of the injuries were situated about the head, McLemore said. The most severe injury Bailey received was a five-inch laceration that went from the front to the back of the left side of Bailey’s skull, she said. The laceration was to the bone, and it was the only blow that caused the skull to crack, McLemore said. At this laceration, she said she was able to lift the skin like a flap.

“This denotes pretty intense force,” she said.

On the back of Bailey’s head there was a cluster of a number of lacerations and tears that almost completely covered the back of his head, McLemore said.

The left ear had bruises and scrapes and the temple region had a number of lacerations and abrasions. Another cluster of lacerations was located on the right front part of the scalp, she said.

There was a bruise on Bailey’s right ear, and there were injuries to the left side of his lips. She said there was an “unusual” two-prong type abrasions on his neck. In addition to the injuries to the head, McLemore said Bailey had bruises and lacerations on his arm, specifically on the back of the back side of the arm above the elbow. There were also bruises and scrapes on the knuckles of Bailey’s right hand, she said. McLemore said these injuries are consistent with defensive wounds.

Bailey also had discoloration and bruising on the back of his left wrist. She said the bruising could have been the result of hitting the wrist against something hard or if someone had been holding him vigorously.

McLemore said because there were so many blows and because they were merged together it was difficult to pinpoint how many blows Bailey was dealt.

She said he received at least 11 blows to the head, and could have received as many as 30.

“It is probably somewhere in between,” she said.

She said there wasn’t one specific fatal blow, but Bailey’s death was caused by a combination of all of the blows.

McLemore said she also couldn’t pinpoint an exact time of death because there are so many variables that take place following a death.

She said Bailey’s death most likely occurred within 24 to 36 hours prior to the autopsy.

According to the toxicology reports, McLemore said Bailey had a urine alcohol content of 0.239 and a blood alcohol content of 0.162. As a point of reference, she said the legal limit for blood alcohol content to drive is 0.08.

She also said Bailey tested positive for THC, a byproduct of marijuana. McLemore said Bailey did not test positive for any other drugs in his system. Hammerand asked if the comprehensive drug test conducted by McLemore tested for insulin.

“No,” she said.

Hammerand rested his case at approximately 3:45 p.m. Friday, April 23. The court recessed until 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 26.

Dayton Trial - Day one

Dayton Trial - Day two

UPDATED April 25, 2010 12:20 PM

Ad contacts Media guide Register link USA Today Link Benton photo link Iowa Photo link Poweshiek photo link