Crime & Courts

Kansas mom charged with murder of 7-month-old daughter

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The mother of a 7-month-old girl who died of multiple head injuries has been charged with murder and child abuse, a Kansas attorney said.

Shelby Dawn Johnson, 26, of Oxford was charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Jesslinn Hulett, Sumner County Attorney Kerwin Spencer said. She was booked into the Sumner County Jail at 3:38 p.m. Thursday by the Wellington Police Department and is being held on $250,000 bond, records show.

Jesslinn, who lived in Oxford with her mother, was taken to a hospital on April 1 and died four days later.

Johnson allegedly killed her infant daughter either by “cruelly beating” or “shaking” the baby, according to court documents. The baby’s injuries to her head included: scalp contusions, internal bleeding, three bone fractures to her skull, swelling of her brain, bilateral retinal hemorrhages and “related head injuries consistent with blunt force trauma.”

The girl needed immediate medical treatment, but Johnson went back to bed and the baby’s father found her not breathing about an hour later, court documents allege.

Spencer said he does not intend to file any charges against Schuyler Hulett, Jesslinn’s father. After the first three weeks of the initial investigation, much of their time was spent determining which parent to charge, he said.

Johnson was charged with three alternate counts of first-degree murder through child abuse, first-degree murder through aggravated child endangerment and second-degree murder, as well as underlying charges of child abuse and aggravated child endangerment.

Her first court appearance will likely be Aug. 2, Spencer said.

Jesslinn, who had four siblings and “one on the way,” would have turned 1-year-old on Aug. 12, her obituary states.

“She loved playing with mom and dad and her sisters and brothers,” the obituary read. “She loved to throw toys for family to give back and play peek-a-boo.”

It was on the morning of April 1 — Easter Sunday — that Hulett took Jesslinn to the emergency room at Sumner Regional Medical Center, court documents state.

Hulett told police that the family had been fishing the day before and “got home late ... so they just put (Jesslinn) to sleep on the floor behind the sofa in the corner of the living room.” The child had been “sleeping on a pallet on the floor,” court documents said.

Walmart surveillance video from the previous evening showed the child was in good health when the family went shopping, court documents state.

Johnson had gotten up at around 7:30 a.m., fed Jesslinn less than 2 ounces from a bottle of milk and put the baby back to bed before she also returned to sleep, the parents told investigators. Johnson said the baby was not crying and appeared to be fine.

When Hulett got up at around 8:45 a.m., he found the girl “not breathing with puke coming from her mouth” and milk coming from her nose and mouth, he told investigators. They then called 911 and drove to the hospital, where they arrived at around 9:15 a.m.

Hospital staff were able to get a pulse, but the child could not breathe on her own, court documents state. The girl was stabilized and taken to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

Jesslinn was pronounced brain-dead on April 5 and taken off life support.

Six days later, a neighbor told police he heard a man in Hulett’s Wellington home yell at a woman, “You killed my (expletive) baby.” Hulett admitted to an FBI investigator that he did accuse Johnson of killing their child, but he never saw her hurt Jesslinn.

An autopsy determined that the child had multiple head injuries and “healing fractures” to her ribs. It found her death to be a homicide.

Court documents state that Dr. Katherine Melhorn, a specialist on traumatic injuries to children, said the injuries that killed Jesslinn had to have happened on Easter morning. They were caused either by shaking the child and hitting her head or by striking her head “onto something hard at least three times.”

“The brain cells swell causing the brain to swell and it choked off the blood since there was no place for the swelling to go,” Melhorn told police.

Video clips from prosecutors opted to show in court Monday illustrate the verbal and physical abuse Evan Brewer suffered before his death. Miranda Miller, the mother, and Stephen Bodine, her boyfriend, have been charged with first-degree murder.

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