Court Upholds Belle Plaine Man's Murder Conviction

By Trish Mehaffey, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa — A murder conviction of a 21-year-old Belle Plaine man who conspired with his mother and a friend to kill Curtis Bailey in 2009 was upheld Wednesday by the Iowa Court of Appeals.

Jacob Hilgendorf, convicted of first-degree murder in 2011, admitted to police he killed his mother's ex-boyfriend, Bailey, 33, of Marengo, on his own without help from his mother Denise Frei, 45, of Marengo, or friend Jessica Dayton, 21, of Belle Plaine.

Hilgendorf in his appeal argued the District Court erred in admitting hearsay statements of co-conspirators. Hilgendorf argued certain statements Frei made to one of the witnesses, who wasn't involved in the scheme, shouldn't have been allowed because they didn't meet the co-conspirator exception to the hearsay rule.

Frei was just talking to her friend, Elisha Runyan, without trying to recruit her to join the conspiracy or persuade her to be involved in the crime, according to the appeal. Frei's statements to Runyan were not made "in furtherance of a conspiracy."

The court ruled it didn't have to decide whether Frei's statements to Runyan were in furtherance of the conspiracy because if the statements were inadmissible hearsay, there's no error, according to the ruling. Hilgendorf's conviction was based on overwhelming evidence.

Hilgendorf tried to buy Runyan's silence offering her money to remain quiet about their plan, he told another witness after the murder that "things went badly" and Bailey "wasn't going to make," and then Hilgendorf told police and relatives he hated Bailey and killed him. Evidence from the murder was also recovered from Hilgendorf's vehicle.

The court ruled Hilgendorf's justification defense wouldn't have prevailed even if Frei's statements had been excluded.

During the three trials, evidence was presented regarding a plan to get Bailey drunk and suffocate him with plastic wrap. The plan went awry when Bailey awoke and started struggling with Hilgendorf. The three of them beat Bailey with a rock and other items.

Dayton, convicted of first-degree murder, maintained her innocence throughout the trial and Frei, also convicted of first-degree murder admitted to enlisting the help her son and Dayton to kill Bailey, who she claimed physically, sexually and mentally abused her.
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