October 18 – BELFAST – A jury has found a Stockton Springs mother guilty of murder by depraved indifference in the 2021 death of her 3-year-old son.
Jessica Trefethen, 36, was quiet as she heard the verdict in Waldo County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon. Trefethen had his back to the room, standing between his two state-appointed defense attorneys. Most of the onlookers were silent except for a high-pitched sigh. After the verdict was read, Trefethen was quickly ushered out of the courtroom.
Trefethen was arrested on June 23, 2021, three days after bringing her son Maddox Williams to Waldo County General Hospital, unconscious and pulseless. Trefethen told hospital staff that Maddox was knocked down by a dog and kicked by one of his sisters, an account his defense attorneys repeated repeatedly during the trial.
The nurses tried for an hour but couldn’t save Maddox. The next day, a medical examiner determined that Maddox had died of serious internal injuries to his abdomen and fractured vertebrae. Based on several older injuries, including missing teeth, a fractured jaw, two brain injuries and dozens of bruises on his body, the examiner also found that Maddox suffered from battered child syndrome.
“Maddox mattered. Every child matters,” Maddox’s paternal grandmother Victoria Vose said, reading a written statement to reporters outside the courthouse after hearing the verdict.
Maddox was one of more than two dozen children whose deaths in 2021 have been reported by the Office of Child and Family Services. The agency recently turned over its records for Maddox and three other children to the Office for Program Evaluation and Government Accountability at the request of lawmakers investigating the deaths.
Vose said she was pleased with the verdict on Tuesday, but Maine courts will continue to place children in unsafe homes unless the state improves its child protection and welfare system.
“So does Maddox and the other kids,” she said. “Justice for my grandson Maddox, Marissa Kennedy, Kendall Chick and all other children wronged by the Department (of Health and Human Services) will not begin until the OCFS is held accountable.”
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea told jurors on Tuesday that the state believes Trefethen stomped on Maddox or otherwise harmed him using significant force. She asked the jury to consider testimony from family members that Trefethen treated Maddox worse than his other children out of spite for Maddox’s father, and that Trefethen spent three days in hiding from the police after Maddox’s death. Maddox.
Jeffrey Toothaker, one of two state-appointed attorneys defending Trefethen, argued that prosecutors could only guess that Trefethen stomped on Maddox. Toothaker said they failed to refute Trefethen’s statements to police after Maddox’s death – that he was shot by the family’s new dog and hit a rock before his 8-year-old sister years did not kick her – or other statements she later made that Maddox had fallen off a trampoline outside the family trailer in Stockton Springs.
In order to find Trefethen guilty on the charge of depraved indifference, the jurors had to agree that Trefethen caused Maddox’s death and that he would not have died had she not treated him. They also had to agree that she acted in a way that demonstrates a “depraved indifference” to human life.
The jurors deliberated for about an hour on Tuesday afternoon. Trefethen will be sentenced in December. She faces 25 years to life in prison. The Attorney General’s office will submit a recommendation to the court.
Assistant Attorney General John Risler, who prosecuted the case with Zainea, said after the verdict he believed the state’s most effective evidence was the autopsy report written by Assistant Medical Examiner Liam Funte.
While Toothaker cross-examined Funte on Tuesday morning – asking him about the non-fatal injuries Maddox had suffered and whether Funte thought it was possible Maddox could have been injured by falling off the trampoline or being hit by his sister Elder – A photo of Maddox’s body was displayed on several digital screens in the courtroom.
Maddox was short, pale and covered in bruises, his mouth and the white sheet under his face stained blue from the Gatorade he’d had earlier that day. Prosecutors point out that at the time the photo was taken, Funte had erased a bright orange tiger tattoo on Maddox’s forehead that covered a “goose egg” bruise.
Trefethen spent most of Funte’s testimony looking away from the photo. When she looked up, it was only briefly, shaking her head and sniffling. At one point, defense attorney Caitlyn Smith placed a hand on Trefethen’s back.
Trefethen did not testify at his trial and his attorneys did not call any witnesses. Instead, they pointed to a recording of his interview with police on the day of his arrest, which prosecutors played to the jury during the first week of the trial.
Police, Toothaker said, did not fully investigate other scenarios.
“Too many questions,” Toothaker said. “Too many unanswered questions by the state.”
But police failed to investigate a possible trampoline accident until meeting Trefethen three days after Maddox’s death, Zainea said. Shortly after Maddox was pronounced dead in hospital, Trefethen and her mother, Sherry Johnson, left before police arrived for questioning. Zainea said Trefethen spent the next three days in hiding. She withdrew all the money from her bank account and texted friends from a messaging app under a different name to avoid being tracked.
As Maine State Police troopers searched for Trefethen at the Searsport public pier, where Johnson falsely told officers his daughter was spending time alone, Trefethen was texting friends, asking for a place to ” hiding,” suggesting that she was already worried that the police were going to arrest her.
“For just 10 minutes, the defendant stayed with her son before fleeing the ER with her mother, and Maddox was left behind,” Zainea said.
During the first week of the trial, the court reviewed several text conversations Trefethen had had with friends about Maddox, including those in the months before her death when she described her injuries and her efforts to hide them from the boy’s father.
Trefethen’s eldest daughter testified that her mother hid Maddox’s bruises with makeup and temporary tattoos. Johnson said his daughter often told Maddox he was “ugly” and reminded her too much of her father, Trefethen’s ex-husband Andrew Williams.
“Maddox was a constant reminder of a man she hated,” Zainea said. “It was not a Trefethen, like her and the others.”
His defense team focused on Maddox’s relationship with Trefethen’s other children and Jason Trefethen, who lived in a nearby RV on his property and is the father of four of his children.
Toothaker asked jurors to consider the possibility that Jason Trefethen was responsible for Maddox’s injuries or death. Who’s to say his other children didn’t hurt Maddox and cause the fatal injuries, he said.
Maddox’s father, Andrew Williams, was not at the courthouse for Trefethen’s trial. Before it started, Williams was asked to leave in case Trefethen’s defense attorneys called him as a witness. Vose, the mother of Andrew Williams, served as the state’s first witness and a constant presence in the courtroom thereafter.
Vose spoke before state lawmakers as they considered legislation to improve the Office of Child and Family Services, which had intervened in Maddox’s case before his death, moving him in and out of custody of his mother.
The Government Oversight Committee has voted to subpoena the records of Maddox and the other three children, but has not yet been allowed to see them. The committee is due to discuss the subpoena at its meeting on Wednesday.
Vose said she helped care for Maddox from 2019 to early 2020 after child protection officers took Maddox from Jessica Trefethen’s home following the overdose of one of her other children. .
Vose would also see Maddox when Andrew Williams had a biweekly arrangement with Trefethen, from October 2020 to December 2020. Williams temporarily lost custody of Maddox twice when he was arrested for an attempted robbery early in 2020 and a YES the following year. . Maddox was present both times, Trefethen’s lawyers told the court.