The murder trial of John Holmon III continued Wednesday with more witnesses for the prosecution.
Holmon is on trial in the death of Jashean Rusher, who died at 21 months in 2012. The child was in the care of Holmon, his mother’s boyfriend, when his 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 him.
The first day of the trial centered on the police officer who first responded and the emergency room doctor who attempted to treat Jashean when paramedics brought him to the hospital. Evidence also included photos taken of Jashean’s body.
A juror fainted Tuesday after seeing the photos, and paramedics were called to evaluate her. The juror declined treatment and said she would like to continue. The defense then called for a mistrial, but Associate Judge Neil Schroeder denied the motion. However, he dismissed the juror and replaced her with an alternate.
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Wednesday began with testimony from Dr. Mary Case, a forensic pathologist who worked with the Madison County Coroner’s Office to study the injuries to Jashean’s brain. Case said she was able to determine Jashean had suffered an acute subdural hemorrhage, which is bleeding inside the dura, a layer between the skull and the brain. She said as a pathologist, it was not her place to determine cause of death, but said that the “inertial brain trauma” to Jashean’s brain was not the sort of damage likely to be seen from normal childhood playing or falling off furniture.
Later, Detective Gary Brooks with the Granite City Police was called to testify. Brooks conducted the initial interview with Holmon, immediately after Jashean was taken to the hospital, and then the next day after the autopsy results came back. The videotaped interview was played for the jury Wednesday.
In the initial interview, Holmon told Brooks that he put Jashean down for a nap and went back to sleep himself, as he had to work that day. At some point, he said, Holmon woke up and found Jashean out of his crib. He said he put Jashean back to bed and went back to sleeping, only waking up later to find Jashean wheezing and out of breath.
Brooks said he asked Holmon if he hurt the toddler. He said Holmon replied, “As God is my witness, I never touched that boy.”
As God is my witness, I never touched that boy.
John Holmon III, in statement to detective
The defense played the video of Holmon’s initial interview, conducted at the Granite City Police Department immediately after Jashean was taken away by paramedics. Holmon initially was engaged and talkative with police, telling them that Jashean had escaped his crib and played with the dog, so he put him back to bed.
Holmon told them that when he woke up later, Jashean was alive and sitting up, but his breathing was labored. He told the detectives that Jashean’s grandmother, Tommie Rusher, jumped to the conclusion that he had done something to the child.
Throughout his initial interview, Holmon insisted that he had no idea what happened to Jashean and that the toddler was still alive.
On Tuesday, the emergency room doctor testified that Jashean’s temperature was 87 degrees when he came to the hospital and clearly had been dead for several hours.
Brooks testified that Holmon reacted with grief when he found out that Jashean had died of his injuries. Brooks said Holmon initially took responsibility for what had happened because he was supposed to be watching him.
Holmon spent that first night in custody at Granite City Police Department. The next day, detectives re-interviewed him after the autopsy indicated the extent of Jashean’s injuries. In the later interview, Holmon said he didn’t remember grabbing Jashean’s arm and couldn’t figure out how the boy’s arm got hurt.
Then Holmon insisted he only spanked Jashean with a flip-flop, but police said they did not believe that could cause the injuries. When asked to demonstrate how he had spanked Jashean, Holmon had to use his left hand, because his right arm was too sore to do so, he said.
Brooks testified that Holmon’s right hand appeared to be swollen and larger than the other and displayed a photograph of Holmon’s hands on the day after Jashean’s death.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Evelyn Harris challenged the investigating officers’ objectivity in their investigation and alleged that they fixed on Holmon right away and ignored other avenues of investigation.
In the course of his testimony, Brooks confirmed that the Granite City Police Department’s union paid for Jashean’s funeral.
“Even though this case had not come to trial yet, your union felt it was proper to pay for the funeral?” Harris asked Brooks. Brooks said he did not personally vote on the decision and did not attend the funeral.