In this BDN file photo, Jessica Trefethen made her first appearance before a judge on June 25 at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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BELFAST, Maine — A Stockton Springs mother pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon in the death of her 3-year-old son, Maddox Williams.  

Jessica Trefethen, 35, was charged by police in June with depraved indifference murder after an autopsy showed Maddox had suffered a fractured spine, bruises on his arms, legs, belly and head, bleeding in his brain, a ruptured bowel and other injuries, according to a police affidavit.

She was indicted on the same charge in July by the Waldo County grand jury.

Trefethen, who sat next to her attorney Caitlyn Smith of Bangor, responded briefly to the questions posed to her by Justice Robert Murray. He asked if she understood that, if found guilty, she could be sentenced to as long as life in prison.

“Yes,” she said quietly.

It’s been nearly four months since Trefethen, who has five children, brought Maddox to Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast. She told emergency room staff that he had been knocked down by a dog leash and kicked by his 8-year-old sister.

But Maddox wasn’t breathing when he got there, and hospital employees were unable to resuscitate him. The cause of his death was determined by the Maine medical examiner’s office to be multiple blunt force trauma that was inflicted non-accidentally.

Trefethen, who disappeared for a few days after her son’s death, later told police that Maddox had been knocked down by a puppy and had fallen off a trampoline, too.

But Dr. Lisa Funte of the medical examiner’s office told detectives that all the boy’s injuries could not have been caused by those incidents. Maddox also had three partially healed abrasions on his face and forehead that were covered with temporary stick-on tattoos, deep tissue bruising in his buttocks and was missing three teeth from what appeared to be at least two different events.

“Dr. Funte stated Maddox’s injuries were too severe to be caused by kids playing, falling from a trampoline, or being knocked down by a puppy,” a Maine State Police detective wrote in Trefethen’s arrest affidavit.

Maddox was one of four Maine children who died in unsafe homes over the summer. The others were a baby in Brewer who was shaken to death, an infant in Milo whose father has been charged with depraved indifference murder in connection with his son’s death and a 3-year-old in Old Town who died ingesting fentanyl in her home.

The four child deaths have led to a fresh round of scrutiny on a state child welfare system that was also under the microscope three years ago following the murders of two young girls at the hands of their caregivers. Child protective services were involved with most of the families before the children’s deaths.

Maddox’s grandmother, Sherry Johnson of Stockton Springs, also was charged in the aftermath of his death after allegedly concealing Trefethen’s whereabouts from police.

After Monday’s hearing, Smith, who is working with attorney Jeff Toothaker as Trefethen’s co-counsels, declined to comment on her client’s plea.