Mom to stand trial in death of 21-pound teen

Jessica Jensen

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota woman whose 13-year-old son died weighing just 21 pounds sometimes locked the boy in a dirty bedroom filled with trash, a detective testified Thursday during a hearing where a judge determined she would stand trial on murder and other charges.

Judge Gary Lee heard testimony and arguments from attorneys in Minot before deciding the state had more than met the burden of proof necessary to try the 35-year-old Jessica Jensen, of Kenmare, for one count of murder, one count of neglect or abuse of a child and one count of failure to report the death of a child. Jensen has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

State Medical Examiner William Massello said in his autopsy that Jensen’s son died from chronic starvation due to untreated juvenile appetite disorder. He listed the manner of death as homicide.

Jensen’s attorney, Bob Martin, argued that she neglected her son’s untreated medical condition but did not deliberately starve him and should not be charged with murder.

For more than an hour, prosecutor Kelly Dillon interviewed Detective Laura Forbes, an investigator whose answers painted a detailed picture of the living conditions in some areas of Jensen’s house and the alleged mistreatment of her middle child. Forbes said Jensen told the detective that she had at times locked her son in a bedroom on the second floor of her home.

Forbes testified that both windows in the bedroom were covered in black plastic and were boarded up with plywood. She said the room was filled with trash, that the room smelled of feces and urine and that food was splattered across the walls.

Court documents show Jensen had homeschooled her children since 2009. Forbes said investigators found few educational materials in the home; everything they found fit in one paper grocery bag full of books.

Forbes said they also found a Kindle reading device that had several books about child abuse on it.

Forbes said Jensen’s mother told detectives that she believed Jensen did not want her son. She also said that after Jensen’s son had died, Jensen allegedly told her mother that “she was at ease.”

Jensen is charged with failing to report the death because authorities contend she waited more than two hours to call police. By the time police arrived, the boy’s body was stiff.

Forbes said that when she saw the body in the hospital on the night the boy died, she didn’t realize at first that he was in the bed. He was “very thin, only bones with skin on them,” she said.

Jensen told investigators her son had a hormonal growth problem and that his pituitary gland did not function properly. She said her son would eat and then throw up.

Forbes said medical records show he had not seen a doctor for several years.

Forbes testified that there was plenty of food in the house and it didn’t appear the family was tight on money.

Jensen didn’t testify Thursday, but sat silent, often looking down at her attorney’s notes.

Martin requested more time to file motions before the trial, citing his busy schedule. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for September.

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