A woman with long hair walks into a courtroom.
The murder trial of Jessica Trefethen, also known as Jessica Williams, 36, of Stockton Springs begin with opening arguments on Wednesday at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The paternal grandmother of 3-year-old Maddox Williams testified Wednesday at the murder trial of her ex-daughter-in-law that she never saw anything more than a few bruises that would be normal for a child of that age.

The child was killed last year.

Victoria Vose of Warren, the mother of Maddox’s father Andrew Williams, was the first witness called following opening statements at the murder trial of Jessica Trefethen, 36, of Stockton Springs, the boy’s mother who is on trial at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. 

Trefethen was charged in June 2021 with the depraved indifference murder of Maddox, after an autopsy showed he had suffered a fractured spine; bruises on his arms, legs, belly and head; bleeding in his brain; a ruptured bowel; was missing three teeth; and other injuries, according to a police affidavit.

The mother of six, including Maddox, has pleaded not guilty to the charge. 

The murder trial of Jessica Trefethen, also known as Jessica Williams,36, of Stockton Springs begins with opening arguments at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Maine medical examiner’s office determined the cause of death to be multiple blunt force trauma that was inflicted non-accidentally, also known as battered child syndrome.

The boy was born prematurely on Jan. 9, 2018, at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He left the hospital two months later and lived with his father until he was two, she told jurors. Maddox went to live with his mother after Williams was arrested on March 8, 2021. 

She never saw him alive again.

“He was small for his age but hit all the milestone markers,“ Vose said. “He was beautiful. He was funny. He was witty. He had a great sense of humor. He loved to help around my house with vacuuming.”

Vose said she never saw nor heard that he had fallen off a small, indoor trampoline he liked to jump on at an aunt’s home or that he had been knocked down by a dog, as Trefethen claimed to police. 

Maddox’s aunt, Mikayla Williams of Thomaston, who gave birth to a daughter Thursday, testified that she took Maddox to her home and to the day care where she worked. She told jurors that she got a call from the Department of Health and Human Services that Trefethen was coming to pick up the boy, but he resisted going with his mother.

“He didn’t want to go with her,” she said. “He cried and held on to me.”

In opening statements, the prosecution claimed that Trefethen was the only person responsible for Maddox’s fatal injuries while the defense said that others could have hurt him.

Assistant Attorney General John Risler addresses the jury Wednesday during opening arguments in the murder trial of Jessica Trefethen, also known as Jessica Williams, 36, of Stockton Springs at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Assistant Attorney General John Risler told the jury of 10 men and six women, including four alternates, that Trefethen inflicted the many injuries the boy endured. He had bruises all over his arms and legs and cuts on his face covered by stick-on tattoos. 

Although Trefethen brought the boy to the hospital on June 20, 2021, telling staff he had been knocked down by a dog leash and kicked by his older sister, she stayed with him just 10 minutes before she left with her mother, Sherry Johnson. Trefethen stopped using her phone and debit card and went into hiding.

“She was at her mother’s home hidden from those investigating her son’s death,” Risler said in his opening statement. 

The injuries he suffered weren’t consistent with being dragged by a dog, kicked by a sibling or falling off a trampoline as Trefethen claimed, Risler said. The prosecutor also said that Maddox’s blood was found on washcloths, towels and chairs in the home and on his clothes at the hospital. 

“The evidence in this case will point to one person and one person alone, Jessica Trefethen,” the prosecutor said. 

Defense attorney Caitlyn Smith of Bangor told jurors that the evidence, especially the photos of his injuries, would be difficult to see.

“There is no greater tragedy than the death of a child,” she said. “While this will be difficult for you to see, it will be most difficult for Jessica to see and hear this evidence.”

Smith said that Trefethen rushed her son into the emergency room and begged staff to continue efforts to revive him. The defense attorney admitted that the mother did not make herself available to the police for three days.

“She was devastated,” the defense attorney told the jury. “She needed time to grieve her child but she didn’t get that time because police and the Department of Health and Human Services decided that Jessica murdered her son and looked at no one else.”

Smith said that the prosecution could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trefethen is guilty of murder.

Defense attorney Caitlyn Smith addresses the jury during opening arguments in the murder trial of Jessica Trefethen, also known as Jessica Williams, 36, of Stockton Springs at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Maddox was one of four children allegedly killed by a parent last year, prompting a fresh round of scrutiny for the state’s child welfare system and an outside investigation into the deaths. Trefethen is the first of those parents to go on trial. Hillary Goding of Old Town pleaded guilty last week to manslaughter in the 2021 death of her 3-year-old daughter Hailey. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Augusta have been attempting to gain access to DHHS records on Maddox, Hailey and the two other children to evaluate the child welfare system’s involvement with their families. A legislative committee last month voted to subpoena DHHS for the records.

The killing of Maddox happened in the same town as the 2018 beating death of another child, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, who was killed by her stepfather, 56-year-old Julio Carrillo, and mother, 37-year-old Sharon Kennedy. That case also sparked intensive scrutiny of Maine’s child welfare system, which received 25 reports concerning Marissa and her family in the 16 months leading up to her death, but didn’t confirm her stepfather and mother were abusing her until she was dead.

Kennedy was convicted by a jury of murder and sentenced to 48 years in prison. Carrillo pleaded guilty to a murder charge and was sentenced to 55 years in prison. 

Superior Court Justice Robert Murray, who handled Carrillo’s and Kennedy’s cases, is presiding at Trefethen’s trial. 

The trial is expected to go to the jury on Oct. 14.

If convicted of murder, Trefethen faces 25 years to life in prison. She also could be ordered to pay restitution for her son’s funeral expenses.