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Judge rules that there is enough evidence for Shelby Johnson to stand trial

Shelby Johnson

by Shane Farley, Newscow.net — Evidence is sufficient for 26-year-old Shelby Johnson to stand trial for murder in the death of her 7-month-old daughter last year in Wellington, a Sumner County judge ruled Wednesday afternoon.

Jesslinn Hulett was hospitalized with head and brain injuries in April of last year. She later died and, from the onset, her injuries drew suspicion from medical professionals and police investigators.

District Court Judge R. Scott McQuin ordered Johnson bound over for trial following a preliminary hearing yesterday that lasted about three hours. Her arraignment is set for 1:30 p.m. March 7.

At arraignment, Johnson will be asked to enter a plea to the charges against her.Wednesday’s preliminary hearing gave McQuin a chance to hear testimony and determine whether the prosecution’s case was strong enough to continue moving toward trial. During a preliminary hearing, a judge is required to consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution.

Johnson is free on $100,000 bond while she awaits trial on charges of first degree murder, second degree murder in the alternative, child abuse and aggravated endangering of a child.

Johnson and her young daughter were living in Oxford at the time of Jesslinn’s death, however the crime is alleged to have occurred in Wellington. They were staying with Johnson’s boyfriend the night of the incident that led to Jesslinn’s injuries.

McQuin granted a request from Johnson’s court-appointed attorney, Chrystal Krier, that Johnson no longer be required to wear a GPS-monitoring device. She said it was causing her client an abrasion to her leg.

Johnson is said to have a job and recently gave birth to another child. She is living in Ark City and the court has restricted her travel to Cowley, Sumner and Sedgwick counties.

Among those McQuin heard testimony from, were:

•Dr. Katherine Melhorn, who specializes in pediatrics and practices at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita, is regularly called in to consult when children show signs of abuse or neglect.

Around the time of Jesslin Hulett’s death, she reviewed the injuries sustained by the girl, which included three skull fractures and swelling to brain. Melhorn testified that the injuries were clearly not the result of an accident like a fall or drop, that can happen with babies.

She described blotchy areas of bleeding behind the child’s eyes and the shearing of blood vessels in that area, from what Melhorn called a “whiplash-type injury.”

“This is a fatal event, so it’s a very severe force (to cause that),” Melhorn said in court.

The skull fractures, she said, were caused by a significant impact with an object or an impact to the head. Melhorn also reviewed an autopsy report that showed Jesslin sustained an older injury to her body. There were rib fractures, she said.

Melhorn said that the older injury would be caused by blunt force trauma to the trunk. It would be caused by an adult-sized hand, placed around the chest, and would require adult force to inflict.

•Schuyler Hulett was the boyfriend of Shelby Johnson at the time of Jesslin Hulett’s death. He testified at Johnson’s preliminary hearing.

Hulett was originally thought to be the father of Jesslinn Hulett and his name appears on the birth certificate. He said in court, however, he now believes he is not the girl’s father.

Shelby has told Schuyler he is the father of her youngest child, which was born while she was out on bond in this case.

Johnson lived in Oxford but was staying at Hulett’s apartment in Wellington. The couple stayed up an hour or two after putting kids to bed. There were two elementary school age children in the apartment, in addition to the two adults and Jesslinn Hulett.

Schuyler Hulett testified that when everyone in the house went to sleep, Jesslinn was fine and uninjured.

Schuyler woke up around 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. At the time, he didn’t know Shelby had been up about an hour earlier to feed Jesslinn.

Schuyler woke up and started coffee and grabbed Easter baskets from his car for the older kids. Jesslinn was sleeping on a pallet. Schuyler made coffee and prepared a bottle for Jesslinn.

Schuyler said he picked up Jesslinn, who was lying partially on a pillow and partially on a towel. Her face was said to be partially covered with a small towel or rag. Schuyler notice the baby had puke, probably milk, coming from her mouth and nose area.

He picked her up and he started to scream, because she did not look the right color, Schuyler told the court. His screaming woke Shelby and he asked her to call 911.

Schuyler said he could not wait for EMS to arrive and rushed the baby to Sumner Regional Medical Center for treatment. The baby would eventually be transferred to Wesley Medical Center. She died days later.

The injuries that medical professionals discovered led to a criminal investigation by Wellington Police. In July, Shelby Johnson was arrested and charged with murder.

Police interviews were the first time Schuyler learned Shelby had been up earlier to feed the baby.

Police investigators and Schuyler all testified that Shelby was frantic about her baby’s injuries and seemed genuinely concerned about her daughter.

Schuyler told the court of a night, April 11, when he became very drunk and questioned Shelby as to whether she killed Jesslinn. A neighbor overheard Schuyler yell at Shelby, saying “did you kill my f**kin’ baby?”

Shelby never admitted to harming the child in any way, Schuyler said.

“She always denied it,” Schuyler told the court.

“I never witnessed her do anything to that baby.”

Schuyler also denied he had anything to do with the baby’s death. There was no police testimony indicating either Schuyler or Shelby had admitted to any role in the child’s death.

THEORY OF THE CRIME

Prosecutor Kerwin Spencer told Judge McQuin that it was the state’s assertion that it was Shelby who had opportunity to hurt Jesslin and had the first contact with the baby that morning. He noted the baby was placed back on the pallet in a way an adult would place a child.

He also referenced testimony from Dr. Melhorn about the injuries being such that only an adult would have the strength needed to inflict them. Though Melhorn did admit under cross examination that she could say how the baby was injured, but not who injured her.

Spencer also said it seemed unlikely Schuyler would aggressively question Shelby about the baby’s death, if he himself was responsible.

Chrystal Krier said that Schuyler was also an adult who had contact with Jesslinn. She pointed out that no one could testify to having seen Shelby do anything to the child.

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