Jennifer Jean Hartley, 43, of Thayer took a plea agreement during a pretrial conference Friday morning at Union County Courthouse.
The agreement consisted of Hartley pleading guilty to seven various counts to avoid the original charge of first-degree murder and a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Hartley was originally charged with first-degree murder in March 2016 in the death of Loretta Dillinger, which came in addition to guilty pleas given by the late Jerry Ray Dillinger during his February 2016 arraignment.
Judge Randy Hefner presided over the conference in which Union County Attorney Tim Kenyon gave details as to why she was charged with the seven counts, to which Hartley explained in her own words what happened.
Hartley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit second-degree arson, second-degree arson, first-degree fraudulent practice, all class C felonies, two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon, a class D felony, and accessory after a felony in connection to the death of Michael Robinson, an aggravated misdemeanor.
According to statements during the pretrial conference, each count was summarized by Kenyon and followed by an explanation by Hartley.
Hartley explained that she helped convince Loretta, who was living in Minnesota, to come back to Iowa during the summer of 2015. That August, Robinson was killed.
“Jerry had told me that he killed Michael and put him in a brush pile. At first I didn’t believe him,” Hartley said, thinking Jerry was joking. “I never called the law to tell them about it.”
Hartley then learned Jerry had not been joking and burned the brush pile several times. Hartley never called law enforcement.
On Sept. 8, 2015, Loretta and another party were involved in two residential fires.
Hartley and Jerry had planned to destroy a foreclosed residence, formerly occupied by Shelly Hartley, in Greenfield by setting fire to it. Loretta purchased the diesel fuel prior to the fire, and the items within the home were moved. The fire was set.
The residence in Thayer that burned occurred the same day but after the fire in Greenfield. According to Kenyon, Loretta and the other party returned to Thayer and set fire to the house there. There were also records showing the cell phones belonging to Jerry and Hartley were not in the vicinity of either fires.
Kenyon said Hartley’s charge of conspiracy to commit murder came when Jerry shot and killed Loretta with Hartley’s pistol on the same day as the fires. Hartley was present during the death.
“Jerry and I, I helped lure Loretta into the vehicle, and Jerry and I and Loretta ... went to the scene of the crime,” Hartley said.
She continued to say she knew Jerry had her pink semi-automatic pistol because she had given it to him knowing his intent. According to a Union County Sheriff report, Loretta was killed to prevent disclosure of information of the two arson fires.
In late September 2015, the body of Loretta was discovered in a rural Union County stock pond by a hunter. Her body was identified by her tattoos. The body of Robinson was discovered three months later on the property of 401 Fourth St., in Thayer, which was owned by Hartley and was the former residence of Jerry.
There was an approximate damage estimate of $177,000 to both residences after the fires, and Hartley filed claims for both to her insurance provider. These claims were fraudulent as the fires were caused by arson, which made them void.
“I got papers from my insurance company to fill out for proof of loss,” Hartley said. “What I didn’t understand, Jerry helped me. He told me what to put down.”
Jerry was sentenced to life in prison in January 2016 in the murders of Loretta and Robinson, then killed himself in February 2016, in his Iowa Medical and Classification Center prison cell. Jerry was found hanging from a bed sheet tied to his bed post.
The sentences to the various counts add up to 47 years in prison with a mandatory five years minimum on charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Otherwise, the other charges could have come with sentences of probation based on Hartley’s criminal background. The sentences are required to run consecutively.