A woman who was being recommended for probation was instead given a prison sentence Monday for her role in a murder case from last summer.
Holly Ekstrom, 23, of Fort Dodge, was sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison after pleading guilty to accessory after the fact to murder and operating a motor vehicle without owner's consent.
She was originally charged with first-degree murder, but accepted a plea agreement to lesser charges instead.
Holly Ekstrom addresses the family of Steven Fisher during her sentencing in Webster County District Court Monday.
Ekstrom admitted that she was present when Ronald Dilley, 29, of Fort Dodge, killed Steven Fisher, 22, of Fort Dodge, by hitting him four times in the head with a hatchet on July 6, 2013.
Ekstrom also admitted to driving Fisher's pickup truck when Fisher's body was left in a ditch near Otho before abandoning the pickup in Fort Dodge.
Chief Judge Kurt Wilke, of the 2nd Judicial District, accepted Ekstrom's guilty pleas, but rejected the probation sentence that was recommended by prosecutors and defense.
"You seem extremely remorseful about the details in this criminal act," Wilke told Ekstrom. "However, in looking at the facts, I don't see an ounce of conscience that you had at the time of this crime. I don't see an ounce of humanity that you had at the time."
He said Ekstrom, who admitted that she remained with Dilley until the pair was arrested on July 12, and said she lied about her role in the crime to investigators, should have called the police once she saw Dilley kill Fisher.
"Any decent person in your situation would have immediately, as soon as possible, contacted law enforcement authorities to report what had happened, how it happened and where Mr. Fisher's body was located," Wilke said. "The fact you let it go on, the fact you attempted to assist Mr. Dilley in avoiding getting caught ... (and) the fact you told untruths to law enforcement authorities makes the request for probation, as far as I'm concerned, repugnant to me."
The plea agreement recommended that Ekstrom be sentenced to probation and attend intensive treatment at the YWCA in Fort Dodge.
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Andrew Prosser, who assisted the Webster County attorney's office in the prosecution of the case, told Wilke that the probation was recommended for a reason.
"I'm still recommending the plea agreement," Prosser said. "I want to make sure the court understands we structured it so that she'd have a way to transfer back to the community. (Prison) is against our recommendation."
Ekstrom's attorney, Jill Emermann, of Des Moines, also disagree with Wilke's decision to sentence Ekstrom to prison.
"I object to that," Emermann said. "It's inconsistent with the plea agreement."
Wilke was not required to accept the sentencing recommendation.
Three members of Fisher's family made statements during the sentencing.
Elaine Fisher, Steven Fisher's mother, said her son and Ekstrom had been good friends before the murder.
"Holly, this is the hardest thing to write, because Steven loved you," Elaine Fisher said. "Steven would have helped you with anything. In school, Steven defended you and helped you with your pregnancy."
Elaine Fisher added that Steven Fisher took care of Ekstrom's son, even though it wasn't his child.
"He won't be a father, he won't be a husband," Elaine Fisher said. "We won't be grandparents to Steven's kids."
Bob Fisher, Steven Fisher's father, read from a card that Ekstrom had once sent to his son.
"I love you babe. Thanks for being there for me," Bob Fisher read from the card. "You make life fun."
He added that Ekstrom didn't care "one single ounce" for his son.
"I don't know what happened to you, and I hope you change," Bob Fisher told Ekstrom. "I hope you grow from this. I really do."
Fisher's aunt, Marilyn Ball, said she can't forgive Ekstrom.
"Your attorney and the court want us to believe that you were the victim in this," Ball said. "I hold you responsible for Steven's death. I hold you responsible for first-degree murder."
She also asked for the five-year no-contact order that was issued between Ekstrom and the Fisher family to remain in place for life.
"Five years isn't good enough," she said before speaking directly to Ekstrom. "We don't want to know you."
Prosser explained during the hearing that evidence prevented Ekstrom from being charged with first-degree murder.
"We hadn't had any sufficient evidence to prove that this defendant actually did participate in this murder or had any knowledge of what was going to happen," he said. "We do know the crimes she did commit after the murder."
"(Ekstrom) stands before the court today accepting all responsibility," she said.
Ekstrom herself made a statement to the Fisher family.
"I know there is nothing I could ever say or do that will bring peace," Ekstrom said. "If I could go back and change things, I would a million times over. I love you, and I wish I could have given my life in place of his."
Fisher's remains were found by a farmer on July 10, 2013. The same day they were identified as Fisher's, Ekstrom and Dilley were arrested and charged with murder.
Dilley is serving a 50-year prison sentence at Anamosa State Penitentiary after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in April.