Three charged with felony murder in town of Dane beating death
Before police told him the man he had beaten was dead, 24-year-old Jacob A. Johnson said he felt bad he may have hurt the man, but that “Once I start, I can’t stop,” according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.
The complaint charged Johnson, of Sun Prairie, with being a party to felony murder for the Oct. 30 death of Dalton D. Ziegler, 24, who was beaten because Ziegler’s girlfriend, McKayla R. Tracy, 20, of Lodi, believed Ziegler was cheating on her and she wanted to catch him in the act, the complaint states. She was also charged Monday with being a party to felony murder, along with Drew D. Luber, 21, of DeForest, who told police he held Ziegler while Johnson punched him, the complaint states.
According to an autopsy, Ziegler, of the town of Dane, appeared to have died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries, which included a facial fracture, the complaint states.
After the beating, Luber told police, Johnson took money and bank cards from Ziegler’s wallet, the complaint states. They all then went to Luber’s apartment, according to the complaint, but Luber later made Tracy and Johnson leave because they were trying to find someone to sell them cocaine. Luber told police that Tracy seemed more upset at not being able to get cocaine than she was about what happened to Ziegler.
Tracy and Luber both appeared in court on Monday, when bail was set at $50,000 for each. Johnson was released last week after posting $35,000 bail and will appear in court on Nov. 15.
According to the complaint:
A woman told police she went to the home where Ziegler and Tracy lived at 7934 Highway 113 around 4 p.m. on Oct. 29 to talk about renting a room. They drank, she told police, and at around 8:30 p.m. a friend of hers arrived, then left with Ziegler to drop off a trailer. The woman said she stayed with Tracy, who continued to drink.
Ziegler and the woman’s friend returned about 10 p.m. She said she and Ziegler didn’t drink, but Tracy continued to drink and get more “high-strung.” Around midnight Ziegler went to his bedroom to sleep and the woman said she decided to sleep on the sofa; both had to work in the morning. She said, though, that Tracy continued to be loud.
After about 10 minutes, the woman said, Ziegler came out and offered to share his bed with the woman so they both could sleep, and said that with pillows between them, nothing sexual was going to happen. They went into the bedroom.
The woman said they went to sleep and she woke up around 3:30 a.m. when she heard a car pull into the driveway. She heard some male voices and then heard Tracy say, “She’s in my (expletive) bed,” and after about two minutes of silence there was a heavy thud against the bedroom door as if someone was trying to break it down.
The woman said Ziegler got up and opened the door and said “Get the (expletive) out,” then was attacked. Ziegler was taken to the floor and tried to fight back, and at one point someone threw the woman’s car keys at her and told her to leave. She said Tracy only glared at her.
The woman said she called her friend and told him what was happening. They met at Kwik Trip in Lodi, then went to Ziegler’s house. The friend went inside, then told the woman to call 911, which she did at 4:17 a.m. Checking on Ziegler, who appeared to be badly injured, the woman realized he wasn’t breathing so she performed chest compressions on him until police arrived, but lifesaving efforts failed.
Johnson, meanwhile, called 911 four times using the name “Pete” to ask about the incident. Dane County sheriff’s detectives met him at a bowling alley in Sun Prairie, where he claimed to be a “neutral party” trying to get information. He later agreed to sit in the detectives’ car to talk, and during the conversation never referred to Ziegler by his name, only as “Dude.”
He told the detectives that Tracy had called him and his friends to say that Ziegler had hit her and was in a room with another woman. He said she later claimed it was no more than a push to her face and she wasn’t injured. Johnson described Ziegler’s house after the beating as looking “like a murder scene.” He said he wasn’t a violent person and made sure that Ziegler was still breathing when he left by kicking him.
He described hitting Ziegler and said “he was getting fed lunch.” He admitted hitting Ziegler, saying, “What does it matter? At the end of the day I’m the one who was hitting him.”
He later said he felt bad that he may have hurt Ziegler, but said, “Once I start, I can’t stop.”
Police arrested Johnson, then later told him Ziegler had died.
Tracy gave a similar account of the beating but refused at first to identify her friends. Later she said “Jake beat the (expletive) out of him.” When Johnson and Luber first arrived at the home, she said, she thought they were all going to leave, but the two asked where the bedroom was and went inside. Tracy admitted to detectives that Ziegler had not been physically abusive to her that night and said Luber held Ziegler down while Johnson struck him, and that she saw at least six “good punches” land.
She began to cry after she was told that Ziegler had died.
Luber told detectives that neither he nor another man called by Tracy wanted to go to Ziegler’s house, but that Johnson “wanted to kick his (expletive).” He said Johnson was “pretty drunk.”
After the beating, Luber said, Johnson and Tracy went into the bedroom looking for money and Johnson took $25 from Ziegler’s wallet and some bank or credit cards.
Felony murder is charged when the commission of a crime leads to a person’s death. In this case, the underlying crime was felony battery that caused Ziegler’s death. Johnson, Tracy and Luber each face up to 18½ years of combined prison and extended supervision if convicted.