EVANSTON — Jesse J. Hartley, 19, of Mountain View, has been convicted of murder in the first degree and aggravated child abuse in the death of 2-year-old Brandon Green on May 1, 2018. A jury comprised of five women and seven men returned with the verdict in Third District Court late on the afternoon of Friday, May 10. Hartley was found not guilty of a third count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
Hartley was charged with the crimes last May after the child’s death, which Hartley initially claimed occurred after the child was found face down in a bathtub. On that May afternoon, Hartley was alone with the victim in their Mountain View home, while Shannon Sherman (the child’s mother and Hartley’s girlfriend at the time) was in Evanston with a friend.
Sherman received a call from Hartley shortly after 2 p.m., during which he told her he had left the child unattended in the bathtub for approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute and returned to find him face down and unresponsive. Hartley informed her he had the boy in their vehicle and was headed to Evanston Regional Hospital.
Sherman went directly to ERH and notified staff there, who contacted dispatch to send an ambulance to rendezvous with Hartley. Uinta County Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Kopp met Hartley at exit 18, the Kemmerer exit, and began CPR on the child. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance arrived and transported Green to ERH, where he was pronounced dead just after 3 p.m.
Kopp testified during the four-day trial and said his observations at the scene that day did not match Hartley’s story of finding the child in the tub. Staff at ERH also noted findings that were not consistent with the given history, including extensive bruising of the toddler’s body.
Evanston pediatrician Dr. Bird Gilmartin said on the stand she was contacted by Dr. James Arango, the attending ER physician, to consult on the case because of suspected child abuse due to the extent of bruising.
Gilmartin testified she conducted a thorough examination of the child’s body after his death, taking photos of all external findings. Nearly 50 of those photos were introduced as evidence during the trial, documenting bruising to the child’s face, forehead, both ears, chin, both collarbone areas, torso, arms, feet, back of the head, shoulder blades and spinal column.
Gilmartin said it’s not at all unusual for children of that age to have bruising; however, it was extremely unusual to have bruising to virtually the entire body on both sides, front and back. Additionally, the patterns to the bruising, particularly on the collarbones, chin and shoulders, were concerning and possibly indicative of finger patterns. In addition to the bruising, there were external scrapes and abrasions to the face and head, along with lacerations and tears to the anatomy of the mouth and tongue.
Dr. Gilmartin also testified about findings that raised significant concerns of sexual abuse.
Gilmartin said a post-mortem CT scan revealed no fractures; however, there were findings consistent with extensive bleeding and subdural hematomas of the brain indicative of abusive head trauma, or what was formerly known as shaken baby syndrome.
Dr. Thomas Bennett, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy in the case, also testified during the trial. Bennett, who said he has performed more than 12,000 autopsies in his career, said he, too, noted the extensive bruising to the child’s body and was able to ascertain that most of those bruises were fresh. He also said he was able to determine that the injuries to the child’s mouth occurred on the day of his death.
Bennett said there was absolutely no evidence of water in the boy’s lungs consistent with Hartley’s claim of finding him face down in the bathtub; however, he did find evidence of diffuse brain hemorrhage consistent with repetitive, violent shaking. Bennett determined the cause of death to be non-accidental head injuries indicative of abusive head trauma so severe the boy would have survived only 5-15 minutes after the injuries were sustained.
Uinta County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Travis Gregory, lead investigator in the case, testified about his multiple interviews with Hartley, beginning on the day of the incident and ending two days later on May 3, 2018. Audio and video recordings of those interviews revealed Hartley repeatedly insisting he found the young boy in the tub after leaving him unattended to go to the kitchen to get a drink.
When confronted by Gregory and Uinta County Sheriff Doug Matthews with the evidence of bruising and head injury, Hartley said perhaps the toddler had fallen in the tub while unaccompanied. Finally, during an extended interview on May 3, Hartley changed his story and claimed he had dropped the boy while putting him in the tub, saying he screwed up and should have known the child wasn’t OK.
When confronted with additional evidence found in the home, including multiple wet wipes in different locations stained with what appeared to be blood, which was later confirmed to be the victim’s through testing at the Wyoming State Crime Lab, Hartley said he had attempted CPR on the boy just after finding him in the tub and the child had spit up fluid, which Hartley said he had cleaned up using the wipes.
Hartley’s attorney, public defender Kent Brown, during cross-examination of witnesses, argued Gilmartin, Bennett and Gregory were all trained to look for child abuse, to the point of seeing it everywhere.
“When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” he said.
Brown suggested some of the bruising could have occurred during CPR and resuscitation efforts, while others possibly resulted from a fall off a kitchen chair the child had taken several hours earlier in the day.
Brown said there were simply too many details that were speculative because none of the injuries were directly witnessed and argued the sexual abuse charge was extremely speculative and the findings noted by medical personnel could have been caused by chronic constipation from which Green suffered. He also argued the state bore the burden to prove that Hartley had acted “recklessly,” based on the presumption that a reasonable person would know that such behaviors could cause serious bodily injury or death.
Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas, however, said in her closing argument the state was not asserting Hartley had set out that day to end Green’s life; however, he certainly recklessly caused significant abusive injuries to the child that resulted in his death. She noted that Hartley’s claims kept changing whenever confronted with information that did not match his story and pointed out how calm Hartley’s voice sounded during audio recording of a hospital interview during which Sherman could be heard wailing in the background about the death of her son.
After approximately four hours of deliberation, the jury found Hartley guilty of first-degree murder that occurred as a result of the aggravated child abuse the defendant recklessly committed, while acquitting him on the sexual abuse charge.
Sentencing in the case will occur at a later date and has not yet been set. As the state opted not to seek the death penalty in the case, the murder conviction carries a sentence of life imprisonment, either with or without the possibility of parole, while the aggravated child abuse conviction is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.