Jett trial day 2: Accused claims boy slipped and fell, experts say explanation is inconsistent with injuries

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PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — Day two of the trial for a woman accused of killing her boyfriend’s son is underway.

Lesli Jett, 34, is currently on trial in a Pekin courtroom. In Feb. 2020, Jett told authorities the four-year-old, Tate Thurman, slipped and fell down stairs, which resulted in his death. However, police believe she beat him to death.

Wednesday, one witness, OSF Pediatric Intensivist Dr. Jonathon Gehlbach, told the jury the injuries the boy suffered were inconsistent with the explanation Jett gave.

“Tate’s bruises were scattered throughout the body, couldn’t be explained by one or two direct contacts But seemed like they would have been more consistent with multiple different forceful entrances,” he said.

Gehlbach said Tate’s condition was “as critical as it gets.” He said internal bleeding led to a buildup of lactic acid, which ultimately caused the cardiac arrest resulting in the boy’s death.

Gehlbach said the bruises were scattered throughout the body and could not be explained by one or two direct contacts. They were, however, consistent with multiple forceful strikes.

Tate’s spleen was still intact, according to Dr. Anthony Munaco, pediatric surgeon at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois, who testified this is an area frequently hurt when falling down stairs.

At the hospital, Munaco conducted a CT scan and two surgeries on Thurman’s stomach. In court, Dr. Munaco said there were multiple injuries in the intestines, including an eight to ten-inch tear in the mesentery, a place that is difficult to injure.

“Typically, you need a large force to disrupt the tissue, so similar such mechanisms of injury would be a very high speed motor vehicle collision with an improperly worn seatbelt,” he said.

Dr. Munaco estimated the injuries Thurman suffered could not have been caused more than three hours before his surgery, and said the boy lost consciousness no more than 30 minutes after the bleeding started.

He said the “large force trauma” was difficult to tie together for a single impact.

“I do not think they could come from a single blow… I believe it would be from repeated strong force blows the abdomen,” he said.

Munaco and Gehlbach both spoke to Jett and Tate’s father Jeremy Thurman about the boy’s condition.

Munaco said Thurman seemed distraught and distressed about the “severe prognosis.” Gehlbach said he was crying and very emotional.

Conversely, Munaco said Jett seemed distant and didn’t ask questions, while Gehlbach said she seemed engaged at first, but then her “eyes were closed and she was not awake.”

As previously reported, four witnesses testified during the first day of a trial of an East Peoria woman accused of killing her boyfriend’s young son.

A third and fourth alternate were selected for the jury Tuesday morning. On Monday, a jury consisting of five women and seven men was chosen for the trial, along with two alternates.

After opening statements were delivered, multiple first responders testified about what they saw at 109 Jefferson Court in East Peoria on Feb. 18, 2020.

East Peoria Paramedic Dan Turner said he was dispatched to the home at 9:12 a.m. for a “four-year-old in cardiac arrest,” and arrived within two minutes. He said he found the child lying on his back in the living room, unconscious and not breathing. All he had on was underwear.

Thurman was dry and he did not observe any water on the floor, disputing Jett’s claim that he slipped and fell. His core was warm and extremities were cold and signaled there had “not been a significant amount of downtime”, Turner said.

East Peoria Senior Paramedic Dan Bourscheidt also said the child was not wet, and neither was Jett. He said Jett told him Thurman “runs into things constantly, and something about a concussion.”

The paramedics said they were at the home for less than three minutes before taking the boy to OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

Erin Bowers, crime scene investigator for Illinois State Police, said she arrived at the hospital to take photos at 2:28 p.m.

Prosecutors presented the Bowers’ graphic images of injuries all over the child’s body to the jury.

“We take no pleasure in showing you those photographs, but they are important. They are very important to this case for you to understand the extent of injury that Tate suffered,” said Tazewell County Assistant State Attorney Mara Mishler.

The trial continues on Thursday.

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