BELFAST — Sherry Johnson of Stockton Springs was on the phone with a friend on June 20, 2021, when her daughter, Jessica Trefethen, started calling. At first, Johnson didn’t answer — she had already talked to Trefethen that morning and wanted to finish her conversation.

“Jessica kept buzzing in and buzzing in,” Johnson told a Waldo Country jury Thursday as they weigh Jessica’s guilt in the death of her 3-year-old son, Maddox Williams.

Trefethen told Johnson that Maddox had a stomachache, but when she arrived at her daughter’s home, she saw things were much more serious.

“He was pale. He didn’t look good,” Johnson said. “He was grayish looking.”

Johnson put Maddox in the back seat of the car and they left for Waldo County General Hospital. Trefethen told Maddox she loved him. The boy said he loved her, too. Then he passed out.

Maddox died after hospital staff spent more than an hour performing several life-saving measures. Sitting in the back of the hospital room, Johnson said she noticed bruises all over Maddox’s body.

“What the F was that?” Johnson asked Trefethen later in the car.

Maddox Williams was one of more than two dozen children whose deaths in 2021 were flagged by the Department of Health and Human Services.

A three-day search for Trefethen ensued almost as soon as she and Johnson left the hospital that day. Trefethen, who also goes by the names Jessica Williams and Jessica Johnson, was arrested June 24 and charged with depraved indifference murder.

Johnson said Thursday Trefethen would call her son names and discipline him more severely than her other children.

“He looked too much like his father,” Johnson said. “She couldn’t stand to look at him.”

Her defense attorneys say Maddox was playing outside when he was knocked over by a dog before his older sister kicked him.

Prosecutors say an autopsy showed Maddox’s wounds were more indicative of “inflicted injuries.”

Johnson — the last witness prosecutors called during Trefethen’s murder trial Thursday — admitted that she helped hide Trefethen from police and lied about her daughter’s whereabouts.

“God, I wish I didn’t,” testified Johnson, who is still facing charges for lying to police.

Johnson is expected to take the stand again Friday morning to answer questions from Trefethen’s defense attorneys.

Most of the state’s witnesses spent Thursday testifying about messages they uncovered from Trefethen’s Facebook account and cellphone, describing Maddox’s injuries in the months before his death and her efforts to conceal them.

Bloody items and uncovered texts

Maine State Police Sgt. Scott Bryant, who commands the agency’s evidence response team, testified Thursday that he found several red-brown stained items in the living room and washing machine area of Trefethen’s mobile home, where she lived with Maddox and three of her other young children.

Bryant arrived at the Trefethen property on the evening of June 21, 2021, after watching a medical examiner conduct Maddox’s autopsy earlier that day. Trefethen was not home, but Bryant said officers had a search warrant to investigate the property.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea showed the jury various bagged pieces of evidence from a table toward the back of the courtroom, pulling from a cardboard box of files labeled “Trefethen Evidence.” The objects included a chair cushion, bath towels, cuttings from a leather recliner and a white washcloth, all bearing dried red-brown stains that were later confirmed to be Maddox’s blood.

Assistant Attorney General John Risler, who is co-prosecuting the case with Zainea, pointed to the blood evidence during opening statements as proof that Trefethen’s account of Maddox’s injury was not true, because his blood wasn’t confined to a play area in the yard.

But under cross-examination from Trefethen’s defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker, Bryant said it was unclear how old the blood stains were, what caused them and where on Maddox’s body they had come from.

“We cannot say, with any degree of certainty, when that blood was deposited?” Toothaker asked Bryant, holding one of the bagged chair cushions against his chest so that the stain faced where the sergeant was sitting at the witness stand.

“Correct,” Bryant said.

After searching Trefethen’s property, Maine State Police Detective Nicholas Gleeson testified that the agency collected thousands of messages, including some where Trefethen asked several friends for a place to stay.

“The cops r trying charge me n Jason n I need a place to hide out,” she texted one friend, who said she was unable to host Trefethen because her father was in hospice. “Saying I killed him.”

She offered to pay them, asking for anything — a secret bedroom, the living room floor — and requested the conversation stay between them.

“My son passed away,” she typed to another friend. “State police at my house DHHS everyone I’m not going home to deal with that on top of this.”

“What happened,” the friend asked.

“IDK,” Trefethen texted back.

Gleeson read at least three conversations sent in the months leading up to Maddox’s death, where Trefethen described his injuries and worried his father’s family would say something.

“Maddox has a bruise on his forehead from falling out of my car cuz the kids think my vehicle is a jungle gym lmao,” Gleeson read from one message that Trefethen sent out in April, on the day that she was supposed to take Maddox to a birthday party for a cousin on his father’s side.

About 10 days before Maddox died, Trefethen texted a friend that her kid fell off the tire swing and had two black eyes.

“Been trying to keep him hiding it’s ridiculous,” she wrote.

More detailed image

The prosecution’s witnesses so far have painted a more detailed image of Maddox’s life with his mother, with whom he lived from March 2021 to June 2021, after going back and forth between her home and his father’s, Andrew Williams of Warren.

Trefethen — now, a mother of six children, including Maddox and a baby she delivered after his death — lived at the end of a dirt road branching off Cape Jellison Road. There was a porch built onto the front of the gray mobile home, and an abandoned attachment in the back that was separated from the main residence by a hanging blanket, Bryant testified.

Children’s toys were scattered across the green lawn, where in some pictures Bryant pointed out a four-wheeler, a tire swing and a trampoline. The father of three of Trefethen’s children, Jason Trefethen, lived in a camper next door.

Johnson said Thursday she used to babysit Maddox regularly. Trefethen would tell him to lie down on his stomach with his head looking up at the wall.

“Because she didn’t want to look at his ugly face,” Johnson said.

Maddox’s oldest sister testified on the first day of trial Wednesday that Trefethen would treat Maddox’s bruises differently from her other children’s, covering his marks with temporary tattoos and makeup, which Johnson also mentioned. She would sometimes slap Maddox across the face, and the sister suggested Trefethen didn’t kiss Maddox as much. While on a family vacation in New Hampshire last Easter, the girl said she saw her mom throw Maddox out of the hotel bathroom.

Maddox’s paternal grandmother, Victoria Vose, testified Wednesday about the times she helped care for Maddox from 2019 to early 2020 after child protective workers took Maddox from Trefethen’s home following the overdose of one of her other children.

Vose would also see Maddox when Andrew Williams had an every-other-week agreement with Trefethen, from October 2020 to December 2020.

Williams temporarily lost custody of Maddox twice when he was arrested for an attempted robbery in early 2020 and an OUI the following year. Maddox was there for both events, Trefethen’s attorneys told the court.

Maddox’s death is one of five child homicides that occurred in 2021. It was the deadliest year on record for children who have been involved with the state’s child protection system under the Office of Child and Family Services. More than two dozen children died, though not all were homicides, and the deaths sparked outrage at the state Legislature. The Government Oversight Committee voted in September to subpoena DHHS records from Maddox’s and three other cases to view confidentially, months after state lawmakers agreed to strengthen an independent office tasked with investigating complaints against Child Protective Services.

Trefethen’s trial is also the first since a Maine law took effect this summer ordering state courts to prioritize child homicide cases.

Two more trials are tentatively scheduled for January and March 2023. And Hilary Goding of Old Town, whose 3-year-old daughter Hailey died of a fentanyl overdose last year, pleaded guilty last week to manslaughter and will be sentenced at a later date.

The trial in a fifth homicide case, the death of month-old Sylus Melvin in August 2021, has yet to be scheduled. Reginal Melvin of Milo was indicted on a murder charge in January in that case.