Jury hears from the man on trial for murder
WEBSTER CITY — The jury spent most of Thursday listening to defendant Zackery Bassett’s interview with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, where he offered an alternate account in the 2018 death of girlfriend Andrea Sokolowski.
But even after a 12-pack of beer, half a bottle of whiskey, meth use and sleep deprivation, the interrogation replayed for the jury offered no confession — only the angry and at times belligerent defendant maintaining his denial in her death, which he said occurred during the course of having rough sex.
“I loved her to death, and that’s the (expletive) truth,” Bassett said, denying any part in her death while positing that she suddenly became unresponsive in September 2018 — a quote highlighted in the state’s opening statement.
Bassett is now on trial for first-degree murder in connection with her death.
In an apparent downward spiral after her death, Bassett said he had been “drinking his guts out,” and spent $2,000 at bars in the week prior to the DCI interview. When offered coffee by the DCI agent, he wanted to put a shot of liquor in it.
But after saying “Zack didn’t do himself any favors,” on the outset of the trial, defense attorney Paul Rounds used the contents of the interrogation to his strength, framing for the jury a picture of a man who did not confess to a crime under interrogation techniques even while sleep deprived and potentially intoxicated. Also working in Bassett’s favor, according to Rounds, were the facts that he did not leave during the three-hour interview and that he voluntarily crossed a state line to meet the DCI, complying with Iowa’s warrant vis-a-vis Kansas authorities for his cell phone, DNA and photos of his body.
Though the explanation in his November 2018 interview differed from what he initially told local police — that he found her unresponsive the night of her death after getting up to go to the bathroom — Rounds demonstrated what could be a compelling explanation for that, too.
“Would you like to talk about your sex life?” he asked Special Agent Matthew Schalk on the witness stand.
“Not in a room full of people like this, no sir,” the agent responded.
Hearing his own drawl on the speaker give vulgar descriptions of how the couple had rough sex, the defendant partially covered his face with his hand, at times.
The DCI’s involvement came as an autopsy, which the jury saw Wednesday, showed “red flags,” the agent said.
“Zack, you were right there when (the death) happened,” Schalk said.. “Why did you lie about it initially? … The injuries on Andrea are not jiving with what you’re telling me.”
Schalk said he made the decision to challenge Bassett’s version of events mid-interview based on the fact that he waited to call 911, said he called two others before calling 911 and inconsistencies in information. Bassett said he called his mother and father before calling 911.
“I didn’t tell nobody because I didn’t feel like it was important … because it (expletive) disgusts me,” Bassett said at another point.
Other portions of the interview validated previous evidence of a relationship fraught with domestic violence, as Bassett confirmed slashing his girlfriend’s car tires and throwing out her possessions.
“It was what she loved the most, so he tried to throw it out,” Schalk recalled of his explanation for the latter, which prior state witnesses testified to through an incident at the Sandman Motel in Eagle Grove two months before her death.
As the state’s case started to draw to a close, their cell phone analyst was still stranded while traveling in Nashville amid two successive winter storms, posing issues as they tried to rest their case this week.
“(His) data is crucial to tie up the case,” said Assistant Attorney General Keisha Cretsinger. “It’s supremely important to this case.”
He was scheduled to appear days ago.
The court outlined two options: reconvene Monday to ensure that a state witness is not called in the middle of defense witnesses, or afford the state’s witness the opportunity to testify out of order.
“(The witness) is going to testify,” said District Court Judge Amy Moore. “I’m not going to get this thing bounced because I didn’t allow him.”
Citing fundamental disadvantages with both options, the defense moved Thursday for a significantly reduced bond to immediately release Bassett from jail — a $10,000 signature bond — and moved for dismissal based on a speedy trial right violation.
Moore summarily denied both, saying the circumstances for Bassett’s incarceration and COVID-19 trial protocols have not changed with the delayed witness.
Rounds said the defense may put Bassett on the stand. He also noted that they’d like to introduce testimony sourced from a neighbor who normally heard the couple’s fights in their Webster City apartment, but allegedly didn’t hear anything the night of Sokolowski’s death.