Iowa Supreme Court upholds Denise Frei murder conviction - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa Supreme Court upholds Denise Frei murder conviction

Denise Frei Denise Frei
Jacob Hilgendorf Jacob Hilgendorf
Jessica Dayton Jessica Dayton

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld the first degree murder conviction of Denise Frei.

Frei was convicted in September 2011 of killing her longtime boyfriend, Curtis Bailey in July 2009 in Marengo.

According to court documents, Frei  enlisted the help of her son, Jacob Hilgendorf, and his girlfriend, Jessica Dayton, to kill Bailey, who Frei referred to as her "common-law husband."

Frei claimed during her trial that she was emotionally, verbally and sexually abused by Bailey and that he threatened to kill her children and grandchild if she ever left him. Because of these factors, Frei claimed she was justified in killing Bailey.

Frei testified in trial that she had attempted to kill Bailey on three other occasions using morphine and insulin.

At trial it was learned that Frei's plan involved her and Dayton performing sex acts on each other while Bailey watched and drank a shot of vodka for each sex act that was performed. Frei's plan was to have Bailey drink enough vodka that he passed out. After he passed out, the plan was to suffocate Bailey by wrapping his head in plastic wrap.

Frei carried out her plan, but when they began wrapping Bailey's head in plastic wrap, Bailey woke up and began struggling. It's at that point that Frei, Hilgendorf and Dayton grabbed objects, including a rock and a candy dish, and struck Bailey nearly 30 times until he died.

Frei originally told police that Bailey had invited two men into the house so he could buy drugs. She told them that she had heard Bailey use racial slurs when speaking to one of the men and said she did recognize the accent the man spoke in.

After Frei heard that Hilgendorf confessed to police, she went back and recanted her initial story.

Before the trial, Frei made a motion "to exclude any reference at trial to the fact that she used racial slurs in reporting the story to the police or to the fact that she had claimed the fictitious drug dealers belonged to any particular racial or ethnic group." The motion was granted, but during opening statements, prosecutors said twice that Frei blamed "Hispanic" drug dealers for Bailey's death.

Frei's attorney moved for a mistrial, but that was denied.

In her appeal, Frei alleged the district court erred in denying her motion for mistrial and also gave improper jury instructions regarding justification, insanity and reasonable doubt.

The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the conviction.   

Dayton was convicted of first degree murder in June 2010.  Hilgendorf was convicted of first degree murder in January 2011.

All three were sentenced to life in prison.

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