Experts for the prosecution vs. experts for the defense concluded the third day of the trial of John Holmon III, who is charged with murder in the death of 21-month-old Jashean Rusher in Granite City.
Closing arguments are set for Friday morning in the trial in Madison County.
In 2012, Jashean was in the care of Holmon, his mother’s boyfriend, when the child’s grandmother came home and found him covered in bruises and not breathing. He was later pronounced dead at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City, and the coroner later determined more than 50 wounds had been inflicted on the toddler.
On Thursday, the defense played more video excerpts from Holmon’s initial interview with Detective Gary Brooks of the Granite City Police Department on the day Jashean died. Police showed Holmon pictures of Jashean’s injuries, and he reacted with surprise at their extent on the video.
Photos of the child’s injuries were presented to the jury on the first day of the trial, showing bruises and scrapes all over Jashean’s face, shoulders, back, and extensive bruising on his buttocks from his lower back down to his thighs. One juror fainted after seeing the photos; that juror was replaced by an alternate.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Raj Nanduri testified that her autopsy revealed dozens of blunt-force injuries all over Jashean’s body, as well as feces on his feet. His head and face had multiple injuries and his forehead was distended and severely bruised, which Nanduri said was consistent with the knuckles of an adult hand, while other injuries indicated Jashean had also been struck with an object.
Nanduri said all of Jashean’s wounds appeared to be inflicted at the same time and around the time of his death. She agreed with Dr. Mary Case, a consulting pathologist and medical examiner for St. Louis County, who testified earlier in the trial that Jashean had a subdural hemorrhage on both sides of his head. His eyes suffered an optic nerve hemorrhage, which is caused by severe head trauma as the brain is impacted inside the skull, she said.
The defense’s cross-examination of Nanduri centered on their theory that Jashean had medical issues that made bruising more common. His mother had a genetic disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos, and the defense argued that if Jashean had it as well, he would be more easily injured.
However, Nanduri said while the child had never been tested, he showed none of the other signs of Ehlers-Danlos, which is characterized by overly flexible joints and fragile skin and bones.
The state rested its case Thursday afternoon, and the defense presented its only witness: forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Young, a medical examiner from Kansas City. Young said he believes that Jashean suffered an episode of apnea, in which he stopped breathing but his heart kept beating. He said that would have thinned Jashean’s blood vessels and lowered oxygenation in his blood, which made it more likely that he would acquire the bruises that Young termed "shocking." He believed that some of the injuries and scrapes were caused by efforts to save Jashean’s life, including CPR.
Young also said that he did not believe the time of death could be estimated from the body temperature because there are “too many other factors” involved, and he would not rule out the mother’s Ehlers-Danlos syndrome as a potential issue. Young said he would have put Jashean’s cause of death as "undetermined with apparent life-threatening event."
Young testified that he considered Holmon’s version of what happened that day when deciding cause of death, specifically Holmon’s description that the boy was sitting up and wheezing, struggling for breath. But on cross-examination, State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said when Young was interviewed last week, he had stated he did not watch Holmon’s videotaped statements personally.
“I can only consider what I am offered,” Young said.
Gibbons pointed out that Young had never before specified this kind of apnea as a cause of death or contributing factor in the thousands of cases he had reviewed in Missouri. Gibbons also said there are three others who said Jashean had been dead for hours when he was discovered: grandmother Tommie Rusher who attempted CPR, Major Jeff Connor who was the first police officer on the scene, and the emergency room doctor who treated him.
Young said he believed that Holmon’s account should be considered more because he was with Jashean before the other three.
Under cross-examination, Young said he has been paid about $3,375 for his work on the case to date, at a rate of $300 an hour to continue until his work on the case is done, for an estimated total of about $7,000.
The defense rested its case after Holmon declined his right to testify in his own defense.