A Madison County jury deliberated nearly three hours Friday afternoon before finding John Holmon III guilty of fatally beating a toddler.
Holmon was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2012 death of 21-month-old Jaesean Rusher in Granite City.
Jaesean 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.
“We as a society are obligated to protect children,” said Jennifer Mudge, the lead prosecutor, in her closing argument. “Jaesean was not protected by the person meant to take care of him. He was murdered.”
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Dollie Rusher, Jaesean’s mother, cried when the verdict was read. After court was adjourned she hugged both Mudge and Madison County State’s Attorney Thomas Gibbons, but didn’t comment.
“I can’t imagine what it must feel like to know that someone that you thought you knew and loved would brutalize your little boy that way,” Gibbons said later. “I can’t imagine the loss of your baby and the way it must shake you to the core.”
The normal sentencing range for a murder conviction is 20 to 60 years, but Holmon is eligible for extended time because of Jaesean’s age. Gibbons said it could be as much as 100 years in prison, and prosecutors will seek the maximum. At sentencing, Gibbons said, prosecutors will ask the judge to consider that Holmon has a previous conviction for aggravated battery of a different child.
During trial, forensic pathologist Dr. Raj Nanduri testified that her autopsy revealed dozens of blunt-force injuries all over Jaesean’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 Jaesean had also been struck with an object.
One juror fainted when photos of the child’s injuries were shown during trial; the juror was replaced with an alternate.
Nanduri said all of Jaesean’s wounds appeared to be inflicted at the same time and around the time of his death.
“It was definitely one of the worst cases of child abuse we’ve seen in this county,” Gibbons said.
During closing arguments, Mudge showed graphic pictures of Jaesean with bruises on his head, arms, buttocks and even feet. Those pictures shown during the week-long trial did lead to a juror fainting.
“We know he was with the defendant and the defendant beat him to death,” Mudge said. “We don’t know how many of those strikes he was awake for.”
Mudge said an optic-nerve hemorrhage and subdural hemorrhage suffered by Jaesean required significant force, and wasn’t something a child could do to himself.
There also was a picture of Holmon’s right hand, swollen.
“His hand was so swollen because he beat the ever-living crap out of that boy,” Mudge said. “This little boy was beaten, he suffered, he was naked and he died alone.”
His hand was so swollen because he beat the ever-living crap out of that boy. This little boy was beaten, he suffered, he was naked and he died alone.
Jennifer Mudge, Madison County assistant state’s attorney
During the defense’s closing statements, lead defense attorney Evelyn Lewis said the prosecution’s case was full of speculation, and police and pathologists rushed to judgment.
“They came up with a theory of the case and tried to make the theory work,” Lewis argued.
Lewis pointed out there was no blood and there were no open wounds on Jaesean.
“How do you beat somebody about the body and there’s no blood?” Lewis said. “You have to be a magician.”
Holmon, who has been held in jail without bail since his arrest, did not testify in his own defense.
The defense’s only witness during the trial was forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Young, a medical examiner from Kansas City. Young had testified he believes that Jaesean suffered an episode of apnea, in which he stopped breathing but his heart kept beating. He said that would have thinned Jaesean’s blood vessels and lowered oxygenation in his blood, which made it more likely that he would acquire the bruises. He said he believed that some of the injuries and scrapes were caused by efforts to save Jaesean’s life, including CPR.
Defense attorneys also theorized that Jaesean had Ehlers-Danlos, a genetic disorder his mother had and could have been more easily injured.
“I’m asking you as a jury to take everything into consideration,” said fellow defense attorney Bridgette Fu. “What was going on with his pediatric history? His mom’s medical health?”
She added, “The pictures are awful, the pictures are terrible, but why do they look so bad? Something else is going on with this kid.”
The pictures are awful, the pictures are terrible, but why do they look so bad? Something else is going on with this kid.
Bridgette Fu, defense attorney
Defense attorneys also pointed out police did not collect objects at the house to compare to the bruise.
Jaesean’s grandmother, Tommie Rusher, said during videotaped testimony that the child had a history of jumping off furniture, and there could have been a concussion. Rusher died before the case went to trial.
“We can’t assume this was a healthy child,” Lewis argued.
Fu added there wasn’t any blood around the house.
“They didn’t bring you a single drop of blood around the house...there’s no object, there’s no DNA,” Fu said. “There’s no broken bones. There’s no internal organ injury.”
After the closing arguments, Gibbons said there were knuckle marks on Jaesean’s head. He added there was no prior medical history.
Gibbons also said the floor of the house was full of shoes and footwear — and everyone else’s DNA would have been on everything.