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Pathologist: 5-year-old's manner of death was 'homicide'

Pathologist: 5-year-old's manner of death was 'homicide'


Ja'Shawn Bussell loved music, dancing, watching cartoons and being rocked to sleep.

The 5-year-old spent his last days alive in pain and confusion.

That's according to testimony heard during the first five days of Tre Henderson's murder trial in Ja'Shawn's beating death.

Monday in Scott County court, forensic pathologist Stephanie Stauffer detailed the injuries the boy suffered before he died May 1, 2018, from complications of blunt force trauma to the head.

Stauffer spent more than 90 minutes on the witness stand.

She said Ja'Shawn suffered 17 rib fractures, a skull fracture, a massive hemorrhage of the left side of his brain, contusions on his brain, inter-retinal hemorrhaging behind both eyes, tearing of his small intestine, a lacerated duodenum, and a right adrenal gland hemorrhage. He was covered in bruises from the top of his head to his ankles.

A deputy medical examiner for Johnson County as well as a forensic pathologist at the University of Iowa, Stauffer did not pause when Scott County Attorney Mike Walton asked her the manner of Ja'Shawn's death.

"Homicide," Stauffer replied.

The 28-year-old Henderson is charged with first-degree murder, child endangerment-multiple acts, and child endangerment resulting in death.

Henderson's court-appointed legal team of Jill Eimermann and Mike Adams asserted during the trial's opening arguments that Ja'Shawn's death was "purely accidental" and the result of a fall off a countertop.

Henderson and Ja'Shawn’s mother, Jacqueline Rambert, called 911 emergency services on April 27, 2018, and reported the child was choking.

Rambert testified late last week after she pleaded guilty last month to a pair of counts of child endangerment. Prosecutors will dismiss the more serious charge of first-degree murder when she is sentenced on March 20.

Before Walton called Stauffer to the stand Monday, he questioned Dr. Swetha Kandula of Davenport's Community Health Care clinic. The pediatrician said Ja'Shawn was examined in February 2018 and was a "healthy" child who had reached the physical and cognitive markers for his age.

By April 27, 2019, Ja'Shawn was having trouble breathing, and according to multiple witnesses, he vomited. He was unresponsive at times and spent a few days sleeping. Those symptoms, according to Stauffer, were consistent with trauma to the brain. And she said that kind of trauma was not consistent with a child's fall from a countertop.

Stauffer said Ja'Shawn had four bruises on his face, 16 on his scalp, and another group of bruises on the back of his head. After the boy's death, Stauffer determined he had an 8-inch fracture in the back of his skull.

Henderson's defense team questioned if it was rare to see a child fracture the thick, tough occipital bone. And if it could still be caused by a short fall.

"Fractures are more likely in children in parietal bones — on the side of the skull," Stauffer explained. She went on the explain "the kind of damage" Ja'Shawn suffered made it "very unlikely" it was the result of a short fall.

The trial will continue Tuesday and is expected to wrap up at the end of the week.


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