by Becky GINOS
FARMINGTON—It has been more than three years since 2-year-old James “JJ” Seiger died at Primary Children’s Hospital from an apparent beating. Now after multiple court hearings and postponements, the trial began last week for the man accused of causing the boy’s death.
Joshua Schoenenberger is charged with aggravated murder in the case and faced a courtroom filled with potential jurors on Oct. 4 as the group was whittled down to 10. The process took most of the day before a final jury was seated for what is scheduled as a six-day trial.
Judge John Morris was set to preside but due to a family emergency was replaced by another judge who will oversee the remainder of the trial.
After the jury was selected, Davis County prosecutor Nathan Lyon gave his opening statement. “On May 9, 2015 the defendant and his girlfriend rushed through the emergency room doors at Davis Hospital with 2-year-old toddler JJ who was on the verge of death,” he said. “The doctors observed he was cold, not breathing and unresponsive.”
(Davis County Sheriff’s) Deputy (Cory) Cox was at a crew meeting they hold at the hospital and heard elevated voices, Lyon continued. “It piqued his interest so he went to the room and saw Jasmine Bridgeman (JJ’s mother) and the defendant sitting. He’s also a paramedic and realized it was a stressful situation so he goes in to talk to the parents,” he said. “The defendant says he left the child in the tub then went to lay down for about 45 minutes. When he came back he found him face down in the tub. Jasmine says ‘no it was about 5 minutes.’”
Deputy Cox took the couple down to the chapel and once there the defendant tells Jasmine she’s got it all wrong, Lyon said. “The defendant says he’s having an asthma attack and leaves the hospital but Deputy Cox brings him back in.”
Lyon said Schoenenberger told police that after going downtown with Bridgeman, JJ and their infant Gillian the family went to Walmart then returned home about 10:45 p.m. He said Bridgeman took care of the baby while he helped JJ who was potty training.
“He said he put him in the shower but he didn’t like that so he put him in the tub,” said Lyon. “Then he went to lay down. He said he discovered JJ face down in the tub so he wraps him up to take him to the hospital. The detective asked him about JJ’s bruises and he said the (boy) slipped on the tile and fell on his back. Jasmine gave about the same story. But after the first round of interviews it doesn’t add up.”
Jasmine allegedly changes her story and said she heard crying and smacking sounds, Lyon said. “She said she saw the defendant on the ground trying to breathe for him (JJ).”
Schoenenberger sticks to his story at first, Lyon said, but eventually claims Jasmine takes over when JJ is being fussy and when he comes back in discovers JJ in the condition he’s in.
Lyon continues to describe events that night when detectives said Schoenenberger allegedly told them he got frustrated and squeezed the boy. Then later allegedly tells them he squeezed him then dropped him and accidentally stepped on him. “JJ’s liver was bruised, his sigmoid colon was damaged and they had to remove some of his intestine,” Lyon told the jury. “The poor boy was beaten. Jasmine lied during the investigation and she’s in prison. He was the last one with JJ and the first one to hurt him. You’ll see he’s completely indifferent to JJ’s life and return with a guilty verdict.”
Schoenenberger’s attorney Ed Brass reminded the jury that intent is necessary for aggravated murder. “(Also) his name is Joshua, not ‘the defendant,’” he said. “He’s a human being just like you and me. Until they’ve proven guilt that innocence goes with you into the jury room.”
This is a serious case, he continued. “These are difficult things to listen to. They pounded away at him for 14 hours and said terrible things to him. At the end he gave up under that type of pressure and said what they wanted him to say. You can’t trust anything that came out of his mouth after that type of torment.”
Brass rebutted the prosecution’s point that Schoenenberger was indifferent to the child. “Joshua asked repeatedly about JJ and was the one who decided to bring him to the hospital.”
DCSO Deputy Cory Cox was called as the first witness and confirmed much of what Lyon had said in his opening statement.
The judge called a recess for the day and instructed the jury not to discuss the case with family or each other.
The trial was still underway as of press time.