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Guilty plea in death of homeless man

Body found burning and beaten

By JENNIFER SMOLA The Columbus Dispatch Published: April 16, 2017 4:00 AM

A homeless man charged in the death of another homeless man whose body was found burning outside a downtown Zanesville church last fall has pleaded guilty to aggravated murder.

Dale Dudas, 41, entered the guilty plea Friday morning in Muskingum County Common Pleas Court, the county prosecutor's office said.

Leo Hayes, 62, was found dead Nov. 12 on the porch steps of Central Presbyterian Church on N. 6th Street in Zanesville, his body beaten and set on fire, authorities said. Dudas was arrested and charged in Hayes' death nine days later.

Authorities pointed to robbery as the motive in the slaying. The amount of money involved was $20, police said at the time.

Known by many as "Junior," Hayes was familiar around the Zanesville community, picking up carpentry jobs around town when he could, locals said.

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A small, makeshift memorial of flowers and poster board signs filled a corner of the church porch following his death.

In addition to aggravated murder, Dudas also was charged with aggravated robbery and abuse of a corpse, both of which were dropped as part of a plea agreement, said Muskingum County Assistant Prosecutor John Litle.

The investigation and final coroner's report indicated Hayes was killed by blunt force trauma to the head, and was not alive at the time the fire started, Litle said.

"Mr. Dudas confessed upfront and was thorough in his explanation of what he did and always insistent that he did not set any fire," Litle said, adding that both men had been smoking cigarettes before Dudas attacked Hayes, which could have sparked the blaze.

Police said previously that Hayes and Dudas knew each other in passing, but didn't seem to have an extensive relationship.

In 2003, Dudas pleaded guilty in Muskingum County Common Pleas Court to multiple felony charges of theft and assault on a peace officer, and was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He also has a lengthy list of previous charges in Zanesville Municipal Court, including disorderly conduct, domestic violence, aggravated menacing, assault and criminal trespassing.

The date of Dudas' sentencing has not yet been set. He faces life in prison without parole, but the state will recommend a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years, Litle said.


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