State v. Dayton

Decision Date05 October 2011
Docket NumberNo. 1-489 / 10-1161,1-489 / 10-1161
PartiesSTATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JESSICA ANNE DAYTON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIowa Court of Appeals

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Iowa County, Denver D. Dillard, Judge.

The defendant appeals her judgment and sentence for first-degree murder. AFFIRMED.

Matthew M. Boles of Parrish, Kruidenier, Dunn, Boles, Gribble, Parrish, Gentry & Fisher, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Darrel Mullins and Douglas D. Hammerand, Assistant Attorneys General, and Tim D. McMeen, County Attorney, for appellee.

Heard by Eisenhauer, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.


Jessica Dayton appeals her judgment and sentence for first-degree murder. She claims the district court erred in (1) admitting hearsay statements under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.801(d)(2)(E) and in violation of her state and federal rights to confront the witnesses against her, (2) finding sufficient evidence supported the jury's finding of guilt, and (3) failing to grant a new trial based on the lack of credibility of several witnesses. She additionally claims her trial counsel was ineffective in several respects. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On July 6, 2009, Jessica Dayton told her best friend, Alexandria Musel, "I'm going to have to help Dee kill Curt." "Curt" was Curtis Bailey, the live-in boyfriend of Denise "Dee" Frei. Dayton worked with Frei at a cafe and dated Frei's son, Jacob Hilgendorf. When Musel asked why, Dayton said Bailey was a mean, horrible person who had tried to rape her. She told Musel the perfect crime would be to overdose someone with cold medicine and then push that person down the stairs. Less than two weeks later, Bailey was found dead in the home he shared with Frei.

Police were dispatched to Frei and Bailey's house around 1:50 a.m. on Sunday, July 19. Frei was sitting on the front porch, covered in blood. Bailey's body was in the living room. He had been bludgeoned to death.

In the days before Bailey's death, Frei told a close friend, Elisha Runyan, of her plans to kill Bailey. Runyan stated that on July 14, Frei said "that her and Jess were going to try again on Saturday" to kill Bailey. Frei stated she planned to start drinking at work that day "so then she had a reliable reason for Jess todrive her home." She told Runyan that she was going to give Hilgendorf and Dayton $5000 each if they helped her kill Bailey.

Dayton and Frei worked together at the cafe on Saturday, July 18. Bailey told two of his coworkers he was going to have a "three-way" with Frei and Dayton that night and for every sexual act they did, he was going to have to take a shot of alcohol. Bailey's coworkers laughed and said, "You'll never be able to stay awake," because Bailey was not known for drinking hard liquor.

Frei called Runyan from the cafe on the 18th and asked her to "come down because she wanted to tell me what they had all planned." Runyan refused. Frei then told Runyan "they were going to try to overdose" Bailey, and "everything was going to go well."

Dayton worked with Frei until about 2:00 p.m. She went back to the cafe when it closed at 6:00 p.m. and drove Frei home. She told police officers she spent the evening drinking, smoking marijuana, and watching movies with Frei and Bailey.

Meanwhile, Hilgendorf was at the home of Denise Templeton, where he was temporarily living. Runyan was there as well. They grilled out over a fire pit, drank, and smoked marijuana. Templeton thought Runyan left for home around 11:00 p.m. Hilgendorf left about a half-hour later to pick Dayton up from his mother's house. Templeton took a sleeping pill and went to bed. She was awakened around 2:00 a.m. by her dog barking.

Templeton went downstairs and saw Hilgendorf and Dayton standing by the sliding glass door in the den. Templeton noticed the fire pit had been rekindled, and Dayton was wearing some of Templeton's clothes. Hilgendorf andDayton took a shower and went into Templeton's bedroom. Dayton told Templeton "things didn't go according to plan," but it was "going to be okay." Hilgendorf then told Templeton "we, or they had cut some things up and burned them in the pit." The three smoked more marijuana and went to bed around 3:00 or 3:30 a.m.

Early the next morning, Dayton asked Templeton if she could borrow her car because Hilgendorf's truck did not have any gas. Templeton agreed. Dayton and Hilgendorf drove to the sheriff's office where they had been summoned for an interview with the police.

Dayton told the detectives questioning her that she texted Hilgendorf around midnight, asking him to come get her. She said she wanted to leave because Bailey started talking about having some friends come over who she did not like. Dayton thought Hilgendorf arrived around 1:00 a.m. She stated they drove back to Templeton's house where they spent the night.

At several points during the interview, the detectives asked Dayton if she had her cell phone with her. Dayton said she did not. However, both Runyan and Templeton received calls from Dayton while she was at the sheriff's office.

Runyan said Dayton called her around 10:00 a.m. from the restroom of the station and said, "We did it" but "everything went wrong." Dayton then asked Runyan to go to Templeton's house and take everything out of Hilgendorf's truck. Runyan refused. Dayton sent Templeton a text message with a similar request at 10:34 a.m., stating: "I need you to do me a big favor! Go to Jacob's car and clean it out. It's important." Law enforcement officials were already at Templeton's home. They overheard a later phone call from Dayton during whichshe told Templeton not to let police look in Hilgendorf's truck. Templeton replied that she had already given them permission. Dayton responded, "That was dumb." She then said either "we or they were gonna go away for a long time."

Dayton was arrested, as were Frei and Hilgendorf. They were charged by joint trial information with first-degree murder. Their trials were severed, with Dayton's occurring first. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and Dayton was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She appeals.

II. Analysis.
A. Coconspirator Statements.

Dayton's primary claims on appeal concern the admission of statements from her alleged coconspirators, Frei and Hilgendorf, through the testimony of Runyan and Templeton. She objects to Runyan's testimony regarding conversations with Frei on July 14 and 18, the gist of which concerned details about the plan to kill Bailey. She also objects to Templeton's testimony about Hilgendorf's statement in the early morning hours of July 19 that "we, or they had cut some things up and burned them in the pit." Dayton asserts these statements were hearsay, the admission of which violated her federal and state constitutional rights to confront the witnesses against her.1

We begin with the Confrontation Clause issue. The constraints of the Confrontation Clause apply only to "testimonial statements." Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813, 821, 126 S. Ct. 2266, 2273, 165 L. Ed. 2d 224, 237(2006); State v. Shipley, 757 N.W.2d 228, 236 (Iowa 2008). Coconspirator statements are "by their nature ... not testimonial." See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 56, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 1367, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177, 195-96 (2004). Therefore, the admission of nontestimonial, coconspirator statements does not offend the Confrontation Clause. Regardless of whether the statements satisfy the coconspirator exception to the hearsay rule or not, they are clearly nontestimonial. They were not made to a grand jury, or during a preliminary hearing, or at a prior trial, or during a police interrogation. Id. at 68, 124 S. Ct. at 1374, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 203. Nor were the statements made under circumstances that would lead the declarants to believe the statements would be used at trial. Id. at 51-52, 124 S. Ct. at 1364, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 193. The Confrontation Clause having no application here, we turn next to Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.801(d)(2)(E).

That rule of evidence provides a statement is not hearsay if it "is offered against a party and is . . . a statement by a coconspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy." Iowa R. Evid. 5.801 (dJ(2)(E). Before a statement is admissible under this rule, the trial court must find by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) a conspiracy existed; (2) the defendant and declarant were part of the conspiracy; and (3) the declaration was made during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.2 State v. Tangie, 616N.W.2d 564, 569 (Iowa 2000). Such findings are implicit when the district court admits the statement into evidence.3 Id. The court's determination regarding the admissibility of evidence under rule 5.801(d)(2)(E) is reviewed for substantial evidence. Id.

1. Evidence of a conspiracy. Before examining the specific statements challenged by Dayton, we must first determine whether a conspiracy existed. "A conspiracy is a combination or agreement between two or more persons to do or accomplish a criminal or unlawful act, or to do a lawful act in an unlawful manner." State v. Ross, 573 N.W.2d 906, 914 (Iowa 1998). The agreement may be established through either direct or circumstantial evidence. Id. Evidence of a conspiracy can be gleaned from the statement itself, as well as "'the circumstances surrounding the statement, such as the identity of the speaker, the context in which the statement was made, or evidence corroborating the content of the statement.'" State v. Dullard, 668 N.W.2d 585, 596 (Iowa 2003) (citation omitted); see also State v. Florie, 411 N.W.2d 689, 696 (Iowa 1987) (statingevidence relied on to establish a conspiracy must include some proof independent of the coconspirator's statement, though the statement itself may also be considered).

As related in the background facts, Dayton told Alexandria Musel weeks before the murder that she was "going to have to help Dee kill...

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