Teen found guilty of first-degree murder in child’s death

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.

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. 

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. 

Public defender Kent 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. 

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. 

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.