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A Stockton Springs mother accused of killing her 3½-year-old son last year was found guilty of murder by a Waldo County jury after about an hour of deliberation on Tuesday.
Jessica Trefethen, 36, was charged with depraved indifference murder but Superior Court Justice Robert Murray instructed jurors to also consider whether she was guilty of criminally negligent manslaughter, a lesser included charge, but they did not consider it after finding her guilty of murder.
The trial concluded Tuesday on the fifth day of testimony at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast.
Maddox Williams died on June 20, 2021, at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast. He was taken there by his mother after complaining of stomach pain, according to testimony. He lost consciousness in the hospital parking lot and never regained it despite emergency room staff’s efforts to revive him.
Trefethen did not react to the verdict but Maddox’s paternal grandmother wept as the verdict was read. Murray warned those in the courtroom not to react to the verdict.
The defendant will continue to be held at the Waldo County Jail until her sentencing. She has been held there since her arrest three days after her son’s death.
Although a sentencing date has not been set, Murray said it will most likely be held in mid-December.
The prosecution maintained that Trefethen inflicted the injuries that caused the boy’s death while the defense argued that his injuries could have been caused by a fall from a trampoline or by his older siblings or another adult. Defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth in his closing argument pointed to Jason Trefethen, the father of four of the defendant’s other children, as a possible suspect.
Jessica Trefethen told police in an interview played for the jury that she did not abuse her children.
Outside the courthouse after the verdict, Assistant Attorney General John Risler, who prosecuted the case, said the investigation by the Maine State Police and the evidence showed that Maddox’s injuries could not have been caused by an accident as the defense claimed.
“Some of the most important evidence presented was the testimony of Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Liam Funte who showed how severe the injuries to Maddox were,” Risler said. “I think the [autopsy photos] gave context to the testimony of Dr. Funte.”
Those photos showed a smaller-than-average 3½-year-old covered in old and recent bruises.
In deciding whether she was guilty of depraved indifference murder, jurors had to decide whether Trefethen’s conduct was so depraved that she should have known her son could die of the injuries she inflicted. They also had to weigh whether how she treated the child in the hours before his death was so reckless that she was guilty of manslaughter.
The autopsy showed that Maddox suffered a fracture in his lower spine; bruises on his arms, legs, belly and head; bleeding in his brain; a ruptured bowel; a split pancreas and other injuries, according to a police affidavit. Maddox also was missing three front teeth.
Maine Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Liam Funte told jurors Monday that Maddox died of battered child syndrome, with the fatal injuries being damage to the pancreas and the boy’s ruptured bowel. Those injuries were inflicted a few hours before he died, he said.
Funte rejected the defense’s theory that the injuries could have been caused by a fall off the full-sized trampoline in the yard that Trefethen’s children often played on outside unsupervised.
Neither Jason Trefethen nor Maddox’s father, Andrew Williams, were called to testify. Williams’ father was in jail in the months preceding his death.
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.
The boy lived with his father and paternal grandmother, Victoria Vose of Warren, until he was two years old. After Andrew Williams was arrested in March 2021, Maddox was returned to his mother.
Vose said after the verdict that although the Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Protective Division had been involved with Jessica Williams and her children previously, employees did not monitor Maddox or Williams’ other children closely enough to ensure his safety.
She called on lawmakers to hold the department accountable for her grandson’s death and the death of other Maine children.
“Maddox was a normal 3-year-old,” she said. “He was happy, playful and loved at one time and still is.”
No one from the Department of Health and Human Services was called to testify about its involvement with the family at Trefethen’s trial but employees with the agency attended the trial.
Trefethen faces up to 25 years to life in prison. She also could be ordered to pay restitution for her son’s funeral expenses.