‘Make no mistake about it, this was an abuse case’; four-year-old boy’s death ruled a homicide

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EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Area law enforcement held a press conference Thursday regarding four-year-old Tate Thurman‘s death and the woman arrested for murder in connection to the incident.

Wednesday night, East Peoria Sgt. Brian Despines said 33-year-old Lesli A. Jett, the girlfriend of Thurman’s father, was taken into custody during a traffic stop at the Thornton’s in Creve Coeur. The Tazewell County Jail confirmed Jett was arrested for first-degree murder without incident.

East Peoria Police Chief Steve Roegge says she was a passenger in a vehicle when detectives were searching the area for her.

Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stu Umholtz, Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood, and East Peoria Police Chief Steve Roegge, and East Peoria Mayor John Kahl led the presser.

“Make no mistake about it, this was an abuse case,” Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stu Umholtz said at the press conference. “This was a case where it was immediately apparent to fire and rescue [crews] that this case was not as Miss Jett described it, as ‘a slip and fall.’ Far from it.”

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said autopsy results showed Thurman suffered multiple blunt force trauma injuries and ruled his death a homicide. He also noted the boy’s injuries were “grossly inconsistent” with what Jett had told police, and said Thurman had bruises “from head to toe.”

Harwood said the boy was declared brain dead last Thursday. He died at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. 

“I went up to the hospital the night he was pronounced brain dead and did an initial examination on Tate and shot well over 100 photographs looking at the injuries. I knew, as a registered nurse and as a trained investigator that what was reported to us was not consistent with that,” Harwood said.

On Feb. 18, crews were called to the 100 block of Jefferson Court in East Peoria at approximately 9:10 a.m. for a report of a child in cardiac arrest. Chief Roegge said emergency crews contacted the police shortly after arrival because the child was covered in bruises and “the nature of the call was suspicious.”

“At the original time the call came in, only Lesli Jett, Tate, and a two-year-old male were present in the home and the two-year-old was still sleeping when officers arrived. East Peoria Detectives then responded to the scene and OSF Hospital. Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigators were requested to assist in the collection of possible evidence,” Roegge said.

The investigation is still ongoing and Umholtz said formal charges will be filed within the next 48 hours. It is unsure when Jett will appear in court.

“I am not going to tell you what hour and what day formal charges will be filed. I don’t mind the accused sitting in jail not knowing the answer to that question, I believe that’s therapeutic,” Umholtz said.

“Now our focus is going to be holding someone accountable,” Umholtz added.

Umholtz wants everyone to be aware of what they post on social media. He says there could be consequences for anyone who releases confidential juvenile information.

“There’s no limit to what the rumors can be when we’re investigating a case and when we’re prosecuting a case. Sometimes I just shake my head when I read these social media comments. Our job is not to feed social media. I don’t know what we do about the problem we have with social media,” Umholtz said.

Umholtz says the distribution of information on social media could impact who is selected to be a juror on this case.

“I’ve had this happen before where I’ve had a prospective juror stand up and say “No, I can’t be objective because I’ve considered all this information that’s been out in the media. And then we lose a good juror. We need good jurors. We just want fair, intelligent jurors who are interested in the outcome of this community. That’s why we try to curtail the release of information so we can successfully prosecute a case,” Umholtz said.

A private funeral is being held for Thurman on Thursday.

Roegge adds it took a few days to place Jett in custody because detectives needed to find probable cause.

Chief Roegge says he has investigated at least 12 additional people just in the last week. Currently, it is unclear if any more arrests will be made. We will be sure to keep you all up-to-date both on-air and online.

Chief Roegge says the saying goes “See something, say something.” He believes, in this case, it should be “See something, say something, DO something,” and call the East Peoria Police Department or Tazewell County State’s Attorney’s Office with any information you have.

Watch the full press conference below:

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