An Iowa car salesman strangled a pregnant prostitute in 2007 and burned her body before dumping the corpse in a rural field, a prosecutor said Tuesday at the man's trial on charges he killed the woman and her fetus.
In her opening statement, Assistant Scott County Attorney Amy DeVine said Chad Welsh choked 41-year-old Angela Hennes to death by putting zip ties around her neck after hiring her for sex while she was five months pregnant. She said Welsh used gasoline to light Hennes' body on fire to cover up evidence and left her remains in a field outside Davenport where a farmer discovered them 10 days later.
Welsh later told a friend that he had a penchant for choking women during sex and downplayed his behavior by saying "they're just prostitutes," DeVine said. DeVine said Hennes worked as a prostitute to support a drug habit, but she was also a loving mother with two sons and a third child on the way.
Welsh, 34, of Burlington, is charged with first-degree murder, abusing a corpse and non-consensually terminating a pregnancy. His defense argued that Hennes died on accident during a consensual sexual encounter that went bad, and Welsh got rid of her body in a panic. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors charged Welsh last year after he was linked by DNA to semen collected from Hennes' body. At the time, Welsh was in a federal prison in Missouri serving a more than eight-year sentence for a 2008 child pornography conviction, and his DNA had been entered into a national database. He was extradited to Iowa to face the charges.
Welsh's defense attorney, Phil Ramirez, told jurors his client had a fetish for kinky sex and often traveled to Davenport to hire prostitutes, including Hennes. He said the two had sex in the back of Welsh's vehicle on Jan. 3, 2007, and Hennes agreed to be choked during the encounter and to choke Hennes. They had agreed to a system where one would tap the other if there was too much pain, and that happened once, Ramirez said.
Ramirez said his client fell asleep afterward and woke up to find Hennes dead.
Welsh panicked, Ramirez said, and drove 80 miles away with the body back to Burlington, where he kept it for days. He returned to Davenport to find a place to dump the body and went back a second time to recover evidence and burn it, Ramirez said. He said Welsh put zip ties around Hennes' neck to cover up his fingerprints.
"He was working in a cloud of bad decisions," Ramirez said.
Ramirez told jurors his client was guilty of abusing a corpse, but they should look carefully at the two other charges. Selfishness, panicked behavior and marijuana use contributed to Welsh's actions, he said.
"One thing is for sure: you will be disturbed," Ramirez said. "It's a difficult story to listen to."
The trial is expected to last a week at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, where a jury of eight women and four men was seated after two days of questioning. Welsh's lawyers peppered jurors about their views toward bondage sex, prostitution, marijuana, and whether they would be able to set aside any emotional reaction to the death of the fetus.
DeVine told jurors that good detective work found a killer after years of dead ends. Hennes' body was so charred that it took an autopsy to identify her, and doctors found a piece of a Polaroid box of film stuck to her face, she said.
Investigators later found Polaroid pictures of women throughout Welsh's bedroom, and linked a Jeep Liberty that Welsh borrowed from a friend to tire treads at the crime scene. She said the most important evidence would come from a friend who Welsh told about the crime.