The Kenmare mother accused of allowing her 13-year-old son to starve to death in January pleaded not guilty at the Ward County Courthouse in Minot Thursday morning to three felony charges related to his Jan. 21 death.
Jessica Jensen, 35, is charged with murder, a Class AA felony that if convicted could mean she would spend life in prison without the possibility of parole, and two Class C felonies of child neglect or abuse and failure to report a death of a child within two hours.
The preliminary hearing saw three people testify, including two people who tested the academic performance of Jensen's other two children as well as Laura Forbes, an investigator with the Ward County Sheriff's office.
Her defense attorney, Robert Wade Martin of the North Dakota Public Defenders Minot office, in his final statement at the preliminary hearing before the arraignment argued for dismissal of the first and third charges but conceded the charge of child neglect or abuse. He came closest to having the failure to report a death of a child charge dropped due to an examination of circumstances that could have made the time of death hard to prove.
In fact North Central Judicial District Judge Gary Lee, while making a statement that ultimately allowed that all three charges have the minimum amount of probable cause to go to trial, allowed that the determination of the timing of death was "iffy at best."
Martin argued that the home was between 60 to 70 degrees the day of the death, which is a relatively cool temperature, and that Jensen bathed her son in a cold water bath because he seemed "lethargic" according to police reports, both of which would have allowed the 21 pound body to cool considerably faster than state medical examiner Dr. William Massello estimated as three to four hours with that mass.
The time of death was determined by a series of phone calls that Jensen made the night of the death to her husband who was working in the Killdeer area.