Opening statements painted two different pictures of the Rusher family on Sept. 10, 2012 — the day toddler Jashean Rusher died.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons spoke of mother Dollie Rusher who was starting school, grandmother Tommie Rusher who volunteered at the local soup kitchen, and Dollie’s son, 21-month-old Jashean Rusher. And, for a time, there was Rusher’s boyfriend: the defendant, John Holmon III, who lived with them in their Granite City home.
“It was supposed to be a great day for the family,” Gibbons told the jury. “Dollie was enrolled in college and was going to make a better life for her family.”
Gibbons described an idyllic early morning: Holmon and Rusher walked together with Jashean in a stroller to the bus stop for her first day. They stopped to get Cheetos for Jashean — the favorite snack of the boy everyone called “Bug.”
As Rusher got on the bus, Gibbons said, her last words to her son were “love you.”
“As she’s waving goodbye, she had no idea that was the last time she would see her baby boy alive,” Gibbons said.
As she’s waving goodbye, she had no idea that was the last time she would see her baby boy alive.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons
According to the prosecution, Holmon then took the toddler home as Rusher’s mother, Tommie Rusher, was preparing to go to Jesus Place, a soup kitchen where she regularly volunteered.
But what happened in the five hours between Jashean’s mother getting on the bus and his grandmother returning to the home is where the narratives diverge?
Gibbons said when Tommie came home, the house was dark and quiet. She was resting in her room when Holmon entered.
“He was carrying Jashean’s lifeless, naked body,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons said that Jashean’s grandmother began doing CPR and begged him to call 911, but he refused. Jashean was pronounced dead at the hospital, and Holmon was charged with murder.
But the defense said that the story isn’t what it seems.
“Even though John was not the father of Dollie’s son, he played a significant role in his life,” said defense attorney Joslyn Anthony. “John looked upon that child like he was his.”
Anthony argued that Holmon put Jashean down for a nap, and he climbed out of his crib while Holmon was sleeping. He admitted to “disciplining” the child and putting him back in the crib, she said, but said those injuries were not present when he put the boy back to bed, and the reason he didn’t call 911 was because his cell phone had been shut off.
Anthony said the police and prosecution jumped to conclusions. “What we had here was a misdiagnosis and not a murder,” she said.
What we had here was a misdiagnosis and not a murder.
Defense attorney Joslyn Anthony
Madison County Sheriff’s Department Major Jeff Connor, who at the time was a detective in the Granite City Police Department, was the first police officer on the scene and the first to testify Tuesday. He arrived before patrol cars, who were held up by a train, he said.
Connor said when Tommie Rusher handed him the child, wrapped in a yellow blanket, he saw numerous bruises on the boy’s face and more on his back as he handed the child to the paramedics.
Prosecutors showed pictures taken later at the hospital, which showed bruises and contusions all over Jashean’s head, shoulders, arm and back. His buttocks appeared to be bruised purple from mid-back to his upper thighs. Gibbons said eventually the autopsy showed he had more than 50 injuries.
Lead defense attorney Evelyn Williams objected several times to the graphic nature of the photos, which lead prosecutor Jennifer Mudge said had been argued several times in pretrial hearings. Mudge insisted that as long as the defense contested the prosecution’s belief that Jashean was beaten to death, she would have to use the photos to show why the police and others were drawn to that conclusion.
Madison County Associate Judge Neil Schroeder said he would consider each of the objections separately as the photos were presented.
A juror fainted 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 Schroeder denied the motion. However, he dismissed the juror and replaced her with an alternate.
Gibbons said by the time Jashean got to the emergency room, he had no pulse, no breath, and his temperature was 87.5 degrees. “He’d been dead for several hours,” Gibbons said.
Emergency room physician Dr. Debabrata Ray testified that Jashean had been dead for at least a few hours when he was brought to the ER. He explained the bruises as seen in the photographs, and indicated that Jashean’s bruises extended up the side of his legs, not just in his buttocks. That indicated that the bruises were caused by trauma and not the natural pooling of blood into the tissue after death, Ray said.
Later, the prosecution played the videotaped testimony of Jashean’s grandmother Tommie Rusher, who has since passed away. She said her first reaction when Holmon entered the room with Jashean’s body was to ask, “You son of a bitch, what did you do?”
On the videotape, Rusher testifies that as she began CPR, Jashean was cold to the touch, and Holmon stood in the doorway. She said she asked him to call 911, and he said he couldn’t find his phone. So she told him to use her phone, which she said was lying on the bed next to her, and he replied, “I can’t do all that.”
Instead, she said, she was the one who called 911, stopping CPR to do so. She said before that day, she never saw Holmon strike Jashean, using time-outs as discipline instead. She said once she came home and found Jashean in time-out, and he reached for her. She said Holmon told Jashean, “Nana can’t save you.”
The trial will continue on Wednesday.