All evidence has been presented in the Susan DeJong murder trial taking place in Jefferson County District Court and closing arguments are scheduled to begin Monday morning.
After three days of witness testimony, the prosecution rested its case at about 10 a.m. Friday. The defense presented three witnesses and rested its case at about 3:12 p.m. that same day.
DeJong is accused of beating her husband to death last March. She is charged with first degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony.
The charges stem from an incident on March 11, 2011 in which Susan DeJong called 911 to ask that an ambulance be sent immediately to their residence eight miles west of Fairbury.
DeJong told dispatch that her husband, Thomas, was unresponsive and wasn’t breathing. She described him as looking like he had been through a “meat grinder.”
An ambulance transported Thomas DeJong to Jefferson Community Health Center and then to BryanLGH in Lincoln where he died from his injuries. His cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to his head, torso and limbs.
DeJong alleged that Thomas left the Monday prior to his death for a job interview in Seward and then proceeded to drive to South Dakota to see a mistress. DeJong alleges that the mistress inflicted the injuries onto Thomas and that he drove home afterward.
Testimony has indicated, however, that Thomas used his cell phone in the Fairbury area on the days Susan DeJong alleges he was in South Dakota. Doctors have also testified that it would be impossible for Thomas to drive with the injuries he sustained.
The defense called Dr. Robert Bux to the stand Friday. Bux is the chief medical examiner for the El Paso County Coroner’s Office in Colorado Springs, Colo. He’s board certified in anatomical, clinical and forensic pathology.
Many of the opinions offered by Bux on Friday differed from testimony given by Douglas County anatomical pathologist Dr. Jean Thomsen Thursday. He said a forensic pathologist, which requires more years of training, is needed in cases like this.
Bux disputed Thomsen’s claims that marks on the back of Thomas DeJong’s body could have been caused by the claw of a hammer.
“I don’t think those marks could have been made by a standard claw hammer,” Bux said. “I’ve done cases in which people have been murdered by hammers and this just doesn’t look like it was done by a hammer.”
Bux disputed that Thomas DeJong suffered blunt force trauma to the head. He said the bruises and cuts to Thomas’ face and head weren’t significant enough to cause trauma. He said swelling of the brain was caused by Thomas going into cardiac arrest and then being resuscitated. He said if the heart stops and the brain goes without oxygen for several minutes, irreversible brain damage will take place, including swelling.
Bux also said the injuries to Thomas’ face would cause significant bleeding, meaning there should have been more blood found in the house.
“I didn’t see a sufficient amount of blood to indicate the assault took place in the house,” Bux said. “It would have had to take place somewhere else.”
Bux said based on the injuries, the assault would have had to take place 24 to 48 hours prior to Thomas going into cardiac arrest. Bux said he’s done more than 6,000 autopsies in his career and has never seen a case in which a person had so many soft contusions.
“This guy was really beaten,” he said.
Bux disagreed with previous doctor’s testimony that Thomas wouldn’t have been able to drive with the injuries he sustained.
“He certainly could have been moving around before he went into cardiac arrest,” Bux said.
Bux also offered testimony that there was trace of alcohol found in Thomas DeJong’s body and it was his opinion that 12 hours prior at about 7:30 a.m. on March 11, his blood alcohol level would have been .15.
Bux didn’t dispute that Thomas’ death was a homicide, but questioned whether there was intent to kill.
“That’s what’s bizarre,” Bux said. “When people try to kill somebody, they’re going for an area that will be lethal like the head or neck. These injuries are mainly soft tissue and muscle injuries to the lower extremities, back and abdominal area.”
Through cross examination, Corey O’Brien of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, established that Bux has come to Nebraska numerous times to testify and criticize Nebraska for not having state law required board certified forensic pathologists.
O’Brien also indicated that a board certified forensic pathologist assisted Thomsen in performing a second autopsy of Thomas’ body. Bux said he wasn’t aware of that.
The court also heard testimony from Susan DeJong’s oldest son Alex Smart, who became quite close to Thomas despite the fact that he wasn’t his biological father.
“I considered him my dad and we were pretty close,” Smart said as he fought back tears.
Smart said his mother loved Thomas and despite the occasional verbal argument, he never observed a physical altercations between them. He said Susan did make him aware, however, of her suspicions that Thomas was not being faithful to her.
“She was heartbroken,” Smart said. “She couldn’t believe the man she dearly loved would do that to her. She couldn’t believe it.”
Despite the suspicions, Smart said he was impressed with how Susan and Thomas were getting along during the time they lived in Fairbury.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday at 9 a.m. with closing arguments.