Protesters picket against deal in Jade Murray case
Trotter: Not enough evidence to convict Murray of murder
About 30 protestors were at the Barry County Judicial Center Friday morning picketing against a plea deal between Lawrence County Prosecutor Don Trotter and Jade Murray, 23, of Aurora, who was accused of killing her 4-year-old son in 2013.
With chants of "What do we want? Justice," and, "No deal," the protestors called for justice on behalf of Skylar Bradley, who died after allegedly being struck by Murray and suffering a ruptured spleen, which led to his death, according to an autopsy.
Trotter said the deal will drop the second-degree murder charge, a class A felony, and Murray is expected to plead guilty early next week to five years in prison on a second-degree domestic assault charge, a class C felony. Murray will also get jail credit for just under two years of time served, and she will be eligible for parole.
Trotter said after witness interviews were conducted over the past two weeks, he had enough to convict on the assault charge, but did not have enough evidence to ensure a murder conviction.
"There is just no way of proving that she caused the death, and I can't waste the court's time and 12 witnesses' time for that," he said. "When I originally charged her, I thought we had what we needed. I charged her because I thought she did it, and I still think she did it. But, I can't prove it."
Misty Hensley of Monett, aunt of Bradley who was leading the protests, said Murray could be free in a matter of months with the deal.
"How is it just assault when a child is dead?" she said. "We are hoping with enough public and community outrage, they won't accept the deal. And, if nothing else, we are trying to raise awareness for child abuse, because it happens all the time, right in our back yard."
Trotter said Murray has not quite served two years yet, and she would have to serve 30 or 40 percent of the five years to be eligible for parole. She would also have to apply for parole before it is granted.
Trotter said he has no guess on how long Murray will remain behind bars, and he understands Hensley's frustration.
"I feel for them," he said. "I'd love to be able to prove it [was murder], but at this time, we don't have the evidence. Five years is not enough for the death of a child, but if I thought I could prove it, I would be going through with it."
Hensely said she is upset with Trotter for allegedly offering such a deal, and she wants people to know about it.
"I want the public officials and the people who elect them into their jobs to know this is considered justice in a 4-year-old's death," she said. "I want people to remember the name, Don Trotter, when they vote for Lawrence County prosecuting attorney again."
After being bonded over to circuit court in Lawrence County, Monett attorney Pamela Musgrave, representing Murray, filed for transfer of venue in November 2014. The case was then transferred to Barry County and the courtroom of Judge Robert Foulke.
The court denied a motion to suppress in March, and the case was set for a jury trial on Aug. 10. That trial was stricken on July 20 and reset to Monday at 10 a.m.
A possible plea hearing, negating the trial, was then scheduled for Friday, but on Wednesday, Foulke recused himself from the case to avoid the appearance of impropriety, according to CaseNet documents. The case was transferred to Stone County Judge Alan Blankenship.
A plea hearing in Murray's case is set for Monday at 9 a.m. at the Barry County Judicial Center. Trotter said he is trying to move the hearing to Tuesday, as he will not be available on Monday.
Murray remains in the Lawrence County jail with bond set at $250,000.
According to a probable cause statement filed by Sgt. Daniel Nash of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Murray took Bradley to Mercy Hospital in Aurora for an unknown illness on Dec. 14, 2013. Bradley was treated and then transferred to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, where he died.
On Dec. 16, 2013, an autopsy determined Bradley died of complications from a ruptured spleen. There was also a bruise on Bradley's side and back area near the location of his spleen.
In a June 6, 2014, interview, Murray recounted events leading up to Bradley's death. She said while at her Aurora residence, she allegedly struck her son on his rear and back area and then began to strike him a second time, but he turned away, which allegedly made her angry and caused her to lose her temper.
"Murray stated that she then struck Bradley again, and that she struck him much harder that she should have," Nash said in the statement. "Murray advised that as she struck Bradley this second time, the blow knocked him off his bed and spun him around, causing him to fall off the bed and strike his back on his brother's bed. Murray advised that she then picked Bradley up from the floor, put him in bed and told him to stay there.
"Murray advised that she left the room, and when she returned approximately one hour later, Bradley appeared ill and refused to eat anything. Murray stated that she again left the room, and upon returning approximately 45 minutes later, found Bradley to be very ill and unresponsive."
Nash said she then transported her son to Mercy in Aurora and allegedly lied to hospital officials and law enforcement about the incident, and allegedly admitted lying to Nash during the first part of the interview.
"Murray advised that she lied because she was scared," Nash said in the statement. "During interviews, witnesses advised that Murray had a very hot temper and that she would routinely strike Bradley, sometimes with her hand, sometimes with a fist and sometimes with a wooden paddle.
"These witnesses further advised that Murray would strike Bradley so hard that she eventually broke the wooden paddle and that they witnessed bruises on Bradley's body and even his face. These witnesses further advised that Murray would routinely provide Bradley with NyQuil and other medications, even to include Xanax. These witnesses advised that at times, they witnessed Bradley in a drugged condition."