“Actions and consequences, that’s what this case is about.”
-Iowa Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister
It was the 13th of October 1992. A Tuesday. Twenty two year old Corey Wieneke was at home in West Liberty, Iowa, United States. The night before, he worked a late night shift at his grandparent's restaurant Wink’s Bar & Grill. He worked there most nights as a bartender and was due to work again that night. So when his fiancé Jody Hotz arrived home at around 6.30pm, she was surprised to see his car still in the driveway and Corey's dog, a golden Labrador retriever called Casey, outside.
Corey was a popular football player and well known in the area. He played for the West Liberty High School Comets and made it to the state championships. When he began dating Jody, they seemed like a good match and they made plans for their future. They moved to a farmhouse outside of town.
Jody worked at a bank in Iowa City. She worked there during the day and as Corey worked at night, he was normally gone by the time she got home. So when she returned that evening and it appeared he was still home, she was worried. Jody noticed that their dog was unchained outside which was not normal and the screen door to their home was wide open.
Jody walked up to the house and found the main door unlocked. She walked around the house and found Corey. He was lying on the floor of the bedroom and wasn't moving. She called 911:
“I think my fiancé is dead. “He’s all bloody, and he’s not breathing, and he’s cold.”
Police arrived at the farmhouse and confirmed Corey was dead. He had sustained multiple blunt force injuries, including one that fractured his skull. He had been beaten to death.
Police spoke to Jody. She told police that he was supposed to be at work and she last saw him that morning, at 8.30am, when she left the house for work. He was asleep at the time. Corey was seen returning home from Iowa City around 7am that morning.
Police did not believe that a robbery had taken place as nothing was missing. It seemed like it was a targeted attack. Somebody had entered the house, it appeared, with the intention of beating Corey.
When police widened their investigation and news of Corey's death broke, a farmer told police that he drove past Corey's house at 1.30pm that afternoon. He saw a metal baseball bat on the side of the road near the house. He had driven past earlier that morning, around 9am, and did not see the bat at that time. Due to that police believed that Corey was killed between 9am and 1.30pm.
Police managed to retrieve the bat and traces of blood found on the bat matched Corey's blood type. Police believed that the bat was the murder weapon as the injuries Corey had sustained were in line with the type of injuries a bat could inflict.
The bat was sent for forensic testing and it was later confirmed to be the murder weapon. But even though police had the murder weapon, no fingerprints or DNA evidence was found on the bat.
Police believed Corey knew his killer. There was no evidence to suggest it was a random killing. They believed it could be connected to a relationship Corey had with a woman, a woman who wasn’t Jody.
Police discovered that Corey was seeing multiple women at the time of his death and that in turn led to many possible suspects. They interviewed more than 400 people in the months following his death.
But despite that, the case went cold. Ten years after Corey’s death, police still had nothing solid and were not sure what the motive was. Sgt. Mark Kopf of the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office said:
“We just have to get some good information. Somebody out there knows something about this case and they need to come forward.”
Police needed someone to come forward and share details of what they knew. They got the break they needed some 25 years after Corey was murdered and the information they received was down to a chance encounter in December 2017.
In December 2017, Special Agent Trent Vileta of the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation, went to a hospital in Iowa to talk to a witness in an entirely separate matter. When he was there, he spoke to a nurse called Jessica Becker. Agent Vileta told her that he worked on cold cases. That prompted her to share a story with him about a time when she was just nine years old.
Jessica told Agent Vileta that she witnessed an incident in 1992. One night, she stayed at her friend's house for a sleepover. That friend was the daughter of Jacque Hazen. Jacque was the sister in law of Annette Cahill. Police were familiar with Annette. They spoke to her after Corey's murder as they discovered that she was one of four women he was having a sexual relationship with at the time of his death. But at the time, Annette told police that she was shopping in Iowa City with Jacque when Corey was murdered. Jacque produced store receipts to support the claim.
Jessica told Agent Vileta that when she stayed over at Jacque's house after Corey's murder, she sneaked downstairs with her friend after bedtime. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, she heard Annette in the dining area and saw her "from the back side." According to Jessica, Annette was crying and lighting black candles. Jessica heard her say:
"Corey, I never meant to hurt you."
"Corey, I'm so sorry."
"I never meant to kill you, Corey."
"Corey, I love you."
Jessica said she went back upstairs so that Annette wouldn't see her. Jessica told Agent Vileta that she told her mother about it afterwards but her mother did not want to report it to the police.
Based on his conversation with Jessica, Agent Vileta looked at the investigation surrounding Corey's death again.
On the file, they found a report from an interview that took place in 1996 with a man called Scott Payne. Scott was friends with Jacque and Annette. The report included:
"Scott Payne stated that Annette was seen burning a bunch of stuff after Wieneke was killed."
Scott was re-interviewed. He said that he remembered seeing Annette burning bloodstained clothing in a barrel at Jacque's house. When asked when that was, he said that it was around one or two days after Corey was murdered. He claimed that Annette told him she was burning the clothing as there was paint on them. However, he told police that he believed it was blood, not paint. He said that he was familiar with blood as he worked at a meatpacking house slaughtering pigs.
Police arrested and charged Annette with first degree murder. She was fifty six years old at the time of her Trial. It was the Prosecution's case that she committed first degree murder by killing Corey willfully, deliberately, premeditatedly, and with malice aforethought.
That Trial ended in a mistrial as the Jury could not reach a verdict. After nearly a full day of deliberations, the Jury could not reach a unanimous conclusion on the possible verdict. They initially voted 11 to 1 to acquit. The Judge gave them more time to deliberate but when they were called back into Court again, they were still deadlocked so a mistrial was declared.
Annette was tried again.
At Annette's second Trial, it was the Prosecution's case that she killed Corey in a jealous rage due to his engagement and the fact he had a sexual relationship with other women. The Court heard that Corey was struck 13 times and they were all inflicted when he was alive. They told the Jury that the murder weapon, a bat, was found one mile from Corey's house. It was initially found by a reporter who couldn't get his car to start so walked down a gravel road and found it at the side of the road and a farmer confirmed he saw it at the side of the road at 1.30pm.
The bat had white tape around the handle and a blue barrel with Power Flite Heavyweight in white lettering on it. The white lettering appeared to have blood stains on it. The Court heard that the bat was bought at a Wal-Mart and could have been left over from the previous year’s inventory. It had a $15 retail price and was bought on sale for $13.
The Court heard that the cause of death was blunt force trauma.
The Court heard that the night before Corey's murder, when he was at work, Annette showed up. Corey left Wink's at closing time with a woman called Wendi Marshall. When police spoke to Wendi at the time, she told them that when they left the bar , they were confronted by Annette. She was waiting for Corey in his car. She was drunk and Corey offered to drive her home. Wendi and Corey got into his car with Annette.
According to Wendi, at one point on their way to Annette’s house, Annette became agitated and jumped out of the car. Corey got out and spoke to her. He dropped Wendi back at Wink's as her own car was parked there. He then dropped Annette home.
He met up with Wendi later that night.
By the next morning, Corey was back at his home and asleep in bed when Jody left for work.
The Court heard witness testimony from Jessica Becker and her mother. Jessica told the Court about what she saw one night when she was nine years old, the same details that she had shared with Agent Vileta. Her mother confirmed that she told her what she saw at the time but she didn’t report it as she was afraid of what might happen to them due to how brutal and vicious the attack on Corey was.
The Court also heard from Scott Payne. He did not testify at Annette’s first Trial. He shared the details with the Court that he had previously shared with police, namely that he saw Annette burning what he believed were bloodstained clothing.
It was the Defense's case that Annette had an alibi and did not kill Corey. The Court heard that there was no physical evidence linking Annette to Corey's murder. Hairs found in Corey's hand had not been linked to Annette. No fingerprints or blood connected to Annette was found on the bat.
According to Annette, she saw Corey the night before he was murdered. She was jealous when she saw him with another woman but said they made up and had sex.
Annette claimed she spent the next day working a roofing job with Jacque and when she called to Corey's house that morning, she believed there was nobody home as there was no answer when she knocked on the door.
In relation to Annette's Defense, namely that she was at a construction job site and then went shopping with Jacque the day Corey was murdered, the Prosecution argued that the receipts did not cover the time that Corey was killed. Jacque testified that she picked Annette up at the jobsite around 10.00am and that they stopped at Corey's house on the way to Iowa City as Annette wanted to drop a book back. But they claimed nobody was home and nobody answered the door so they went to Iowa City. Jacque provided the receipts for that trip in relation to purchases she made but the only one that had a timestamp was one marked with details of a purchase made at 1.25pm.
The Defense tried to discredit Jessica. The Court heard it was the Defense's case that she was biased as Annette had a sexual relationship with Jessica's stepfather when Jessica was a child.
The Jury deliberated and at one point told the Judge they were deadlocked and the foreperson told the Judge that he did not believe more time for deliberations would result in a unanimous verdict. The Judge asked them to sleep on it and return the next day for further deliberations. They did.
After a total of 16 hours of deliberations, the Jury announced that they had reached a unanimous decision.
They found Annette guilty of second degree murder.
Annette filed a post-trial Motion to compel discovery relating to the hairs found in Corey's hand. She asked that the State provide any other information about the testing that was performed on the hairs. If the evidence was lost or destroyed, Annette asked the Court to order the State to explain how that happened.
She asked the Court for a new Trial based on a Brady violation and "the unfairness of the jury lacking a spoliation instruction based on this destroyed evidence." The Court denied the Motion and she was sentenced to fifty years in prison.
Annette appealed her conviction based on a number of different arguments. One such argument was in relation to the Prosecution witnesses. At the outset of her Trial, Annette had sought to exclude the testimony of Jessica Becker, Jessica's mother and Scott Payne. That Motion was denied. On Appeal, Annette claimed that Jessica's account of what she saw could not be true based on:
1. Jessica could not have seen Annette in the dining area while standing on the stairs because the stairway was fully enclosed and with a door at the base that opened out and away from the stairs;
2. Jessica was unable to recall other details of the home's layout even though she claimed to have spent the night there many times over the years;
Annette also argued that Scott's testimony could not be trusted because she claimed there were contradictions between statements he made to police in 1996 and 2019.
Another argument in Annette's appeal was based on the hairs found in Corey's hand. She argued that there were four human hairs in his hand and the State presented no evidence that the hair matched Annette's hair. The Appeal also pointed out that if there was hair in his hand, he must have been aware of the attack. Annette argued that there must have been more than one person who attacked him as he was a football player, an experienced fighter and weighed 230 pounds.
Annette argued there was insufficient evidence to show she committed the murder. The Court stated they would uphold the verdict if it is supported by substantial evidence:
Evidence is substantial if, when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, it could convince a rational factfinder that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Annette highlighted a number of points that indicated there was insufficient evidence in her case:
1. She never confessed to the murder
2. There was no physical evidence linking her to the murder
3. There were no eyewitnesses to Corey's murder
4. There was no witness that could place her with the bat/murder weapon
5. There was no witness or indication that she had planned to attack Corey
Annette argued that the only evidence the Prosecution had was Jessica's testimony, the testimony of Jessica's mother and Scott Payne. On that basis, Annette requested that her conviction should be set aside.
The Court disagreed. Annette lost her Appeal and her conviction and fifty year sentence stands. The Court noted that the evidence is not overwhelming but:
"when it is viewed in the light most favorable to the State, we are unable to find that it falls short of the substantial-evidence threshold."
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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