The woman accused of the murder of her 13-year-old son made her initial appearance in court Monday at the Ward County Courthouse in Minot, according to court records.
Jessica Jensen, 35, Kenmare, was charged with Class AA felony murder of her 13-year-old son on March 18. She is being held in the Ward County Jail on a cash only bond of $250,000 according to an order filed by Northwest District Judge Gary Lee on Monday.
Capt. Bob Barnard of the Ward County Sheriff's Department told The Minot Daily News on Friday that the arrest had taken a while due to delays for medical tests at the State Medical Examiner's office due to the circumstances of the death and age of the deceased. When the autopsy was released, however, State Medical Examiner Dr. William Massello III concluded that John Doe I, the code name for the child, "died from chronic starvation due to untreated juvenile appetite disorder," according to a police affidavit filed with the complaint.
Massello also listed the death as a homicide.
The court approved Jensen's application for court-appointed attorney and she will be represented by Robert Martin of the Minot branch of the North Dakota Public Defender's office.
According to that same affidavit, Jensen herself called the police on Jan. 12 just after 8:15 p.m. to report that the child had "passed on." When a Kenmare Police Department officer arrived at the scene he said that he observed Jensen "holding a small child in her arms" that the officer was unable to open the mouth of to give breath due to the onset of rigor mortis. The officer also described the mother's demeanor as "exceptionally calm."
The child was then transported by ambulance to the Kenmare Community Hospital and was declared dead there by a nurse practitioner. The nurse said the child appeared to be only two or three years old and that the body temperature was 80 degrees or below, not knowing the exact temperature upon arrival because 80 degrees is the lowest that particular thermometer reads. Like the police officer, the nurse practitioner described Jensen as showing little to no emotion but also that Jensen stated "It's my fault."
It turns out that the child, one of three children in the home, was host to serious medical problems including, in Jensen's telling, "a hormonal growth problem and that his pituitary gland did not function properly," and, in Massello's telling, a juvenile appetite disorder.
The appetite disorder was investigated by police. Jensen had said that the child could not keep food down and the 14-year-old half brother of the child told police that the child had " 'puked' a lot." Other interviewees of the investigators said similar things but had said that he appeared to eat everything in front of him when presented with food, as one interviewee described it.
For the hormonal problem, Jensen said that she had taken him to a doctor in Fargo who had prescribed medicine that Jensen administered to the child daily "for a few years" before dropping it. She later said that she couldn't remember the last time he had been to a doctor. One of the children said that the mother looked up medicine recipes online for the child and also that she had looked up ways to bring him back to life when he had died. Jensen herself had told police that they didn't need a regular doctor because she could "solve the problems."
Several extended family members who were interviewed by investigators allege that they warned Jensen to take her child to a doctor or that they would report her for neglect. Some of the interviewees, including the father of the other two children in the home, reported that they had been barred from the home and seeing the children.
Some also allege that, when there were social gatherings, the child was forced to sit next to the mother like a "dog" and that she treated him differently than the other children.
Medical records indicate that in July 2006 the child had been diagnosed as "failure to thrive" and weighed in at 29 pounds, or nine more than the time of his death. In January 2008 a medical chart said that the child had "very poor growth because of lack of treatment" and that he weight 35.8 pounds, or nearly 16 pounds more than at his death.
"Overall, the home was quite cluttered and filthy," was the general assessment of the home provided by police in an affidavit.
A room believed to be the one occupied by the deceased child was on the second floor of the room and featured windows boarded up with plywood and a hook-and-eye latch lock on the outside with no doorknob. Inside the room "smelled strongly of urine and/or waste" and was generally filthy with feces on the floor and dried old food on stacks of plates on top of a television in the corner. A child-sized recliner was in front of the TV and the closet held trash and food containers "a couple feet deep" as well as a mattress leaning against the wall.
Jensen had home-schooled her children and a bookshelf in the home had some elementary-level educational workbooks that could be contained within an average grocery store paper sack. The seven-year-old girl in the home described herself as six and couldn't spell her name.
Ward County Social Services evidently performed an investigation into a report of educational neglect at the home. Jensen was notified of the need to file statements of intent for home-schooling as well as standardized tests administered to the children. According to the affidavit, "no results of standardized tests had been filed with the school district."