Teenager describes abuse of 3-year-old at mother's trial on murder charge




  • In US
  • 2022-10-06 08:04:00Z
  • By Portland Press Herald, Maine

Oct. 6-On the first day of her mother's murder trial, a teenage girl shyly remembered when her mother, during a family vacation in New Hampshire more than two years ago, threw her brother out of a hotel bathroom.

The 2-year-old landed face down on the hard floor with a "cry-laugh," the girl recalled, "like the kind of cry that turns into a laugh."

The testimony offered the first glimpse jurors had of 36-year-old Jessica Trefethen's relationship with her 3-year-old son, Maddox Williams, before his death last summer. Trefethen is charged with "depraved indifference murder" in Maddox's death.

Trefethen, who also goes by the names Jessica Williams and Jessica Johnson, is a Stockton Springs resident and mother of six children (including Maddox). She gave birth just after Maddox's death.

Williams brought Maddox to Waldo County General Hospital on June 20, 2021, telling hospital staff that he had been knocked over by a dog and kicked by one of his sisters - a story her defense attorneys repeated during their opening statements Wednesday.

"We do not disagree that what you will all hear, and the pictures you will see over the next couple of weeks are difficult," said one of Trefethen's defense attorneys, Caitlin Smith. "But I can tell you that there is nobody in this courtroom who will have a greater difficulty hearing and seeing what is said over the next few days than Jessica."

It took police three days to find Trefethen after hospital staff told her Maddox was dead and she left the hospital.

During that time, a medical examiner was conducting an autopsy that revealed Maddox's injuries - extensive bruising, internal bleeding, missing teeth and a broken spine - were more indicative of "inflicted injuries," said Assistant Attorney General John Risler. Prosecutors will eventually call on that examiner to testify.

"The injuries were not consistent with being dragged by a dog," Risler said. "The injuries were not consistent with being kicked by an older sibling."

Trefethen stayed at a friend's home and then her mother's house. She stopped using her credit cards and her cell phone, Risler said, so she couldn't be tracked.

But one of Trefethen's attorneys characterized her behavior over the three days differently.

"Jessica was a grieving mother who chose to be alone, rather than be peppered with questions from various agencies," said Smith, who told jurors police had a "red dot" on her forehead from day one, investigating no other suspects and failing to fully consider her account of Maddox's last day.

Although the hospital notified law enforcement about Maddox's death, Maine State Police Trooper Luke Martin testified that Trefethen's ex-husband Jason Trefethen had called police earlier that day to report Trefethen had abused Maddox and was bringing him to the hospital.

Jason Trefethen was living in a camper next door to Jessica's mobile home at the time. He is the father of four of her children.

Risler said police found traces of Maddox's blood in Trefethen's home in Stockton Springs - on washcloths in the living room, the back of a recliner, the seat of a chair, and on two damp towels in front of the washing machine.

Risler and Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea called on six witnesses Wednesday, including Trefethen's oldest daughter, family on Maddox's father's side, Maine State Police troopers and an emergency room nurse who tried to save Maddox's life.

PROSECUTION CALLS FIRST SIX WITNESSES

In their questioning, prosecutors hinted that Maddox was treated differently from Trefethen's other children.

Zainea asked Trefethen's daughter if she noticed her mother treated Maddox differently. She would use makeup and fake tattoos to cover bruises on Maddox's face, the girl said. She would call him names. Sometimes, she would slap him across the mouth.

"Did you ever see your mom give kisses to Maddox?" Zainea asked.

"Maybe once or twice that I saw," the girl said.

Christine Beguin-Fernald, an emergency room nurse at Waldo County General Hospital, was one of those who spent an hour trying to resuscitate Maddox the day he was brought in - while some nurses worked on chest compressions, she was helping inject epinephrine to restart his heart.

Zainea showed Beguin-Fernald two photographs of Maddox - pale, thin, his stomach "tight and distended," covered in finger-print shaped bruises. A large, bright orange temporary tattoo of a cartoon tiger popped against Maddox's white forehead.

"Does that reflect the injuries you observed?" Zainea asked Beguin-Fernald.

"Yes ma'am," she said, choking back tears.

Beguin-Fernald said Trefethen did not cry when hospital staff told her Maddox was dead.

But some records indicate Trefethen did react - a doctor's note mentioned she was "was distraught, as expected," especially when hospital staff told Trefethen that they ceased resuscitation efforts.

It was Father's Day. Maddox's dad, Andrew Williams, was being held at the Knox County Jail and was unable to be there for his son's last hours.

Williams was also kept out of the courtroom Wednesday on the first day of his son's murder trial. Before the jury entered the room, Zainea found him sitting on the front bench with his family and told him that because the defense indicated they might call him as a witness, he would have to step out.

Williams hadn't been served a subpoena and at first objected to being forced out of the courtroom.

"Jeff, are you really going to call him?" Zainea called to the defense table where Trefethen and her attorneys, Jeffrey Toothaker and Smith, were sitting.

"We may," Toothaker said.

MADDOX A SMALL, HELPFUL BOY

Williams' grandmother, Victoria Vose, was the first witness Wednesday. She has spoken publicly about Maddox's death and the state's child protective system, testifying to the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee in February that the state failed her grandson.

Vose described Maddox Wednesday as a small but helpful boy. He liked to help her dust and vacuum the floors. Prosecutors showed the jury a short video of Maddox pushing a vacuum with one hand, carrying the looped cord in his other as it dragged at his feet.

"He was, oh, beautiful," Vose said tearfully, blinking. "He was funny ... He had a great sense of humor."

He liked chicken nuggets, and children's shows like Cocomelon, Baby Shark and Paw Patrol. Their characters were on the pull-up diapers at Vose's house that he wore for potty training. Maddox was born premature and had to stay at Northern Lights Hospital in Bangor for a couple of months before Trefethen took him home, Vose said.

When another of Trefethen's children overdosed on methadone in 2018, Department of Health and Human Services workers removed the kids from her care, according to what Vose told lawmakers in February. Maddox was sent to live with his father and grandmother from then until February 2020, when Williams was charged with attempted robbery - he had brought Maddox along when he committed the crime. Maddox was then returned to his mother.

Williams and Vose were able to host Maddox every other week after Williams was released on bail, from October to December 2020. In 2021, Williams and Vose had few regular visits with Maddox before Williams was arrested again on an OUI charge.

The Williams family last saw Maddox in March 2021, except for a few video calls.

Vose testified that Trefethen would constantly make excuses about why Vose couldn't see Maddox (the COVID-19 pandemic, work, Maddox was sleeping).

Under questioning from Trefethen's defense attorneys, Vose said her former daughter-in-law had also shared safety concerns because of Williams' arrests.

Vose and Williams noticed bruising during the six months they shared custody with Trefethen, Vose testified. But Trefethen's defense attorneys pointed out that Williams' sister, Mikayla Williams, was a daycare worker and therefore a mandated reporter of suspected abuse. Mikayla Williams testified that she had never felt concerned enough about Maddox to report anything to DHHS.

Maddox's death is one of five child homicides that occurred in 2021. It was the deadliest year on record for children who have been involved with the state's child protection system under the Office of Child and Family Services. More than two-dozen children died, though not all were homicides, and the deaths sparked outrage at the state Legislature.

The Government Oversight Committee voted in September to subpoena DHHS records from Maddox's and three other cases to view confidentially, months after state lawmakers agreed to strengthen an independent office tasked with investigating complaints against Child Protective Services.

Trefethen's trial is also the first since a Maine law took effect this summer ordering state courts to prioritize child homicide cases.

Two more trials are tentatively scheduled for January and March 2023. And Hilary Goding of Old Town, whose 3-year-old daughter Hailey died of a fentanyl overdose last year, pleaded guilty last week to manslaughter and will be sentenced at a later date.

The trial in a fifth homicide case, the death of month-old Sylus Melvin in August 2021, has yet to be scheduled. Reginald Melvin of Milo was indicted on a murder charge in January in that case.

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