Will Jerice Hunter be convicted of first-degree murder for being a bad mother to Jhessye Shockley?
It’s very possible and that’s what the prosecution is banking on.
Let me explain.
As background, Jerice Hunter is on trial for felony child abuse and first-degree (felony) murder of her 5-year-old daughter Jhessye. The state is alleging that not only did Hunter abuse her daughter, she abused her so badly that she died as a result of the abuse.
If convicted, Hunter faces life in prison.
The trial started on March 25. Wednesday, less than a day after the state rested, its case in chief, Candace Shoemaker, Hunter’s lead defense attorney, rested.
In rebuttal, Jeanette Gallagher, the lead prosecutor, presented only one witness and introduced a picture of Jhessye’s sister into evidence.
Let’s examine some of the evidence that was presented in trial that the state is hoping will convince the jury that Hunter is guilty of not only child abuse but first- degree murder.
First, the state presented evidence showing Hunter essentially abandoned Jhessye shortly after she was born and left her to be raised by family members. She returned years later and ripped Jhessye from her loving home.
The prosecution then focused on the amount of time little Jhessye was absent from school and the excuses Hunter gave to justify the absences, including pink eye and ringworm. Jhessye hadn’t been seen at school for more than 19 days.
The most damning evidence against Hunter was the testimony of her now 17-year-old daughter and that of the DNA/blood expert.
Hunter’s older daughter took the stand and explained to the jury how she saw Jhessye in the closet with bruises and so weak that she could not walk to the bathroom alone.
To everyone’s surprise, she coupled her testimony with defending her mother’s actions, but even that didn’t blunt the horrible details her testimony brought to light.
Towards the end of the state’s case an expert testified that the blood found in the closet was most probably that of Jhessye’s.
As a side note, we aren’t talking about a couple drops of blood; we are talking about an 8 by 11 inch area on the carpet inside the closet soaked with blood.
Prior to her testifying I would have argued the testimony of the woman who drove Hunter to a Tempe apartment complex and saw her throw a bag into the dumpster wearing plastic gloves the day little Jhessye went missing was also damning, and the jury might still find it so.
However, this witness only speaks English as her second language and since there was no interpreter in court, her testimony lost much of its power.
The state presented other witnesses and evidence, though I would argue nothing was as strong as the sister’s testimony and that of the expert.
The defense presented two witnesses who could introduce reasonable doubt.
The first witness was a man who lived in the same apartment complex as Hunter. He initially claimed he saw Jhessye shortly before she went missing, but after being questioned by the state this claim came into question.
Next, the defense called a 68-year-old woman who claims she saw Jhessye taken by an unknown black female the day she went missing.
This feeds right into the defense’s theory that Jhessye was abducted, not murdered by her mother.
The state has no body, the testimony of a 17-year-old, and the testimony of a blood and DNA expert. The defense has a witness with memory issues and a 68-year-old-woman with health issues.
In my opinion the jury will have little trouble making the determination that Hunter was a bad mother and finding her guilty of child abuse.
The issue of murder is a different matter entirely.
No body and a witness who claims she saw an abduction could be just enough for reasonable doubt.
With that being said, the jury could make the logical leap that Hunter murdered her daughter because she was a bad, terrible, horrible mother.