Is being a bad mother enough for Jerice Hunter to be found guilty of murdering 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley?
This is the question the jury will be deliberating.
Jerice Hunter was charged with Type 1 child abuse and first-degree murder. The State has alleged Hunter abused her daughter and as a result of that abuse she killed little Jhessye.
Although the jury will start with those allegations, the jury instructions gave them several options less serious than Type 1 child abuse. However, they can only get to first-degree murder if they find her guilty of Type 1.
The State started its unemotional closing argument by placing a smiling, beautiful picture of Jhessye on the overhead for the jury to focus on.
Prosectuion then proceeded to explain the difference between circumstantial and direct evidence by walking across the courtroom and picking up the piece of bloody carpet from Jerice Hunter’s closet to use as an example.
He held it up and said, “We know this is Jhessye Shockley’s blood, no one saw her bleed, no direct testimony of that but the totality of the circumstances show this was her blood.”
One person sitting on the victim’s side ran out of the courtroom in tears.
From there, the State proceeded to explain what Type 1 child abuse was and I will paraphrase, “intentionally or knowingly caused Jhessye Shockley’s person or health to be injured.”
This was followed with the explanation of the first- degree murder charge. Essentially, Hunter committed the crime of Type 1 child abuse and in the course or furtherance of that crime, she caused the death of Jhessye.
Next the State pointed to several pieces of evidence to show the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. This included DNA and blood evidence, the testimony of Jhessye’s sister, and Hunter’s own statements to the police and the school.
In my opinion, as a lawyer and a mother, it is a no brainer that Hunter abused little Jhessye. Although the jury doesn’t know it, Hunter has already served a term in prison for child abuse. Does anyone really believe she has changed? I do not nor do I believe she ever will.
The problem the State has it that it did not find, and it does not have, Jhessye Shockley’s body. It cannot say for sure what happened to her and Hunter’s defense attorney, Candice Shoemaker, pointed that out.
The defense started its argument by attacking the case for murder and referred to the panic a parent feels when they cannot find their child and the relief they experience when they do find their child seconds later.
The defense claimed that is what Hunter has been feeling since this happened, not the relief but the panic.
Hunter’s attorney pointed out that her client was a “flawed woman” and told the jury they may not have made the same decisions Hunter had but that doesn’t mean she killed her daughter.
Shoemaker then argued the State was trying to prove its case by spin and interpretation since it cannot say for sure what happened. She does have a point.
The defense accused the State of trying to distract the jury, the two biggest distractions being the bleach and the cadaver dogs.
Bleach is used in everyday cleaning and there are some flaws and gaps in what the dogs alerted to.
It then focused on the witnesses and brought credibility into question. In other words, the defense did exactly what it was supposed to do.
The defense closing focused on the fact that the State is OK with not knowing how or what really happened to Jhessye and it is OK with asking the jury to find Hunter guilty of murder.
Defense pointed out that the questions floating around in the jurors’ heads were reasonable doubt.
In rebuttal, the State went on the defensive, going back over the evidence to prove its case.
Throughout closings it appeared the jury already had its mind made up. Granted, jurors are instructed to keep an open mind and to participate in the deliberations.
However, in my opinion they seemed to have their minds made up.
During closings they seldom took notes, were fidgety (one was even spinning in his chair) and frequently looked at the clock. They acted exactly as if they did not need to hear any more, from anyone.
Attorneys have a way of saying the same thing more times than necessary. We try to beat the proverbial dead horse, and we often do.
Does the jury already have its mind made up? We will know Tuesday. If the group comes back quickly, then yes, it had already decided, just like the majority of Arizona has.