Ronald Dilley pleaded guilty Friday morning to murdering Steven Fisher by hitting him four times in the head with a hatchet.
Dilley, who had been facing a first-degree murder charge, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Webster County District Court.
Chief Judge Kurt Wilke, of the 2nd Judicial District, accepted Dilley's plea to the lesser charge and set May 5 as the sentencing date. At that time, Wilke can sentence Dilley to up to 50 years in prison, where he will be required to serve at least 70 percent, or 35 years.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Ronald Dilley, 29, listens to Webster County Attorney Cori Kuhn Coleman during his plea hearing Friday morning in Webster County District Court. Dilley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the killing of Steven Fisher, of Fort Dodge, on July 6, 2013, then dumping his body near Otho.
Dilley, 29, and Holly Ekstrom, 23, both of Fort Dodge, were charged last summer with first-degree murder after Fisher's body was found in a roadside ditch near Otho.
Officials didn't confirm the identity of the remains as being Fisher, 22, of Fort Dodge, until a determination by the state medical examiner's office two days later.
"We'd just been hanging out," Dilley told the court Friday.
"During the course of the night he made a comment that upset me. At one point he made a separate comment and that made me really upset," Dilley said.
"I grabbed a hatchet and hit him in the head with it."
Asked if his act was premeditated, Dilley said, "I didn't think about it before I did it ... I knew it was going to hurt him."
Fisher was hit four times in the temple, according to Webster County Attorney Cori Kuhn Coleman.
Dilley said he pulled Fisher's body into the passenger's side of a truck and drove out of Fort Dodge.
He pulled Fisher out and rolled him off into the side of the ditch, he testified.
"We took the truck and parked in town," Dilley said. "Then we fled on foot."
He didn't identify who he was with in the truck.
Dilley said he killed Fisher on July 6, 2013.
Fisher's vehicle was discovered by law enforcement officials in the 1300 block of Second Avenue South in Fort Dodge; it was seized July 12 and sent to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Fisher, known to his family and friends as "Fish," was reported missing by his employer, Liguria Foods, of Humboldt, on July 9, one day before his body was found by an Otho farmer.
A 2009 graduate of Fort Dodge Senior High, Fisher was also an aviation electronics technician with the Air National Guard, as well as a former newspaper carrier for The Messenger.
Ekstrom has pleaded not guilty and is set to stand trial July 22.