Hall convicted for prison murder
Jury discussion took about two hours
It took a Webster County jury a little over two hours to decide that vigilante justice has no place in the American criminal justice system.
The jury convicted Eric Todd Hall, 45, of first-degree murder for the death of his fellow Fort Dodge Correctional Facility inmate Thomas Daleske on Thursday afternoon.
Hall was accused of killing Daleske, 59, in the victim’s cell at the FDCF on June 14, 2020. Daleske was found unresponsive in his cell in the Grove Unit of the prison around 5:15 p.m. on that date.
Hall was identified shortly after the incident and was charged with first-degree murder. He had been serving a sentence for third-degree burglary since April 2019.
The verdict came just hours after the jury heard from Hall, who took the witness stand to testify on his own behalf as the defense’s only witness.
The defense had asserted that Hall targeted Daleske because Daleske was a convicted sexual offender — convicted of several sex crimes against minors — and Hall believed Daleske was going to be released from prison “soon,” which angered him..
Hall testified that he was sexually abused from the ages of 2 to 12 and doesn’t know if anyone was charged or convicted for that abuse. He said for years, he had nightmares, often waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat or after wetting the bed. The traumatic memories never left him.
“There’s no blocking that out,” he said.
The defendant testified that he’s spent about 22 years of his adult life in prison for property crime convictions like burglary, stolen vehicles and eluding police in high-speed chases.
Originally from Wisconsin, Hall said he came to Iowa in 2018 and heard over the radio that Iowa lawmakers were trying to reinstate the death penalty for criminals convicted of first-degree murder when kidnapping or sexual abuse of a minor was also involved.
Defense attorney Paul Rounds asked Hall how that made him feel.
“Like I had a blanket over my shoulders,” Hall responded. “It felt warm.”
Hall testified that when he heard that sexual offenders were going to be released from prison, possibly to help lower prison populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, he initially made a “petition” to stop pedophiles from being released. The “petition” identified more than 20 sex offenders by their inmate numbers, but not by name. Hall said no one would sign his petition.
“I have very little patience for people who take advantage of people who can’t defend themselves,” Hall testified. “I’m normally able to click this off … but I guess I was on steroids … the reason why I got as mad as I did.”
Hall had been taking over-the-counter steroidal nasal spray, he said, which he believed altered his emotions and made him uncontrollably angry about the injustice he perceived of sex offenders going free.
Hall testified that he attacked Daleske to protect potential future victims.
“It was either kill him or kill myself,” Hall testified under cross-examination from Webster County First Assistant Attorney Ryan Baldridge. “The monsters are not going to win anymore.”
Baldridge asked Hall what made him think vigilante justice is OK.
“I don’t. I’m an idiot,” Hall answered.
Hall freely admitted he strangled Daleske and “stomped” on his neck and chest and stayed in Daleske’s cell for several minutes to “make sure he stayed dead.”
Prior to the state resting its case, Iowa State Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michelle Catellier testified about her findings from conducting the victim’s autopsy.
“He had quite a lot of blood about his face and neck area,” she testified.
She said she also found petechial hemorrhages in Daleske’s eyes, which are pinpoint spots of blood that are consistent with blunt force trauma and strangulation.
Parts of the victim’s larynx were broken, Catellier testified.
“There was quite a lot of injury to the neck itself,” she said.
She testified that she determined Daleske’s cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head, neck and chest, along with strangulation. Daleske had been found with the elastic band of a pair of men’s underwear and a set of headphone wires wrapped tightly around his neck.
“We cannot have vigilante justice in this country,” Baldridge said in his closing arguments. “This country has rules, it has laws. … We would have absolute chaos if everybody acted on their feelings like Mr. Hall.”
In his closing arguments, Rounds emphasized the pressure he said Hall felt while in prison and that the lingering trauma of his own sexual abuse was what led to the crime.
“This death was the result of a buildup of pressure that led Eric to snap,” Rounds said in his closing arguments. “Not a cold, calculating murderer, but a man who lost control.”
Rounds encouraged the jury to return with a verdict of manslaughter, a lesser included charge under the first-degree murder charge.
The jury deliberated for about two hours before reaching its verdict of guilty of first-degree murder.
“We’re very pleased,” Webster County Attorney Darren Driscoll said of the verdict. “We believe the justice system worked in this case. The jury heard a gruesome and difficult case to hear and observe and we thank them very much for their service.”
Hall’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 30. In the state of Iowa, a first-degree murder conviction results in a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.