Dou­ble-death trial be­gins with mother’s tes­ti­mony

Hairston: ‘I could have just been a bet­ter mom’

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Perry [email protected]­ton­courier.com

The trial for a man ac­cused of killing his two chil­dren be­gan Tues­day in Saline County Cir­cuit Court with the emo­tional tes­ti­mony of the chil­dren’s mother.

Jonathan Wel­born is fac­ing two counts of neg­li­gent homi­cide and en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a mi­nor in con­nec­tion with an in­ci­dent that took place June 28, 2017, in the 16900 block of Arkansas 298.

“This trial is about how these two ba­bies ended up dead in a murky pond,” said Saline County Chief Deputy Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­ney Rebecca Bush dur­ing her open­ing ar­gu­ments.

She ar­gued that un­der the influence of metham­phetamine, Wel­born drove his truck with his chil­dren — Sophie, 2, and Zaine, 5 months — into a pond and then re­turned to a res­i­dence where he told the chil­dren’s mother and oth­ers that his truck had been stolen.

The truck was later lo­cated in the pond — along with the two chil­dren.

“Bot­tom line, he was high and in the driver’s seat when that truck hit the wa­ter,” Bush said.

In re­sponse, Mark Hamp­ton, who is serv­ing as Wel­born’s le­gal coun­sel, ar­gued that the state does not have an eye­wit­ness to the in­ci­dent and many people that were at the scene were in­tox­i­cated.

“We have people high on meth in that home doing things they shouldn’t have been doing,” Hamp­ton said.

Saline County Sher­iff’s Of­fice Lt. Joe Tray­lor, who was one of the first re­spon­der at the scene, tes­ti­fied re­gard­ing Wel­born’s be­hav­ior the night of the in­ci­dent.

Tray­lor explained the Wel­born was “very dis­ori­ented” and “ag­i­tated.” He also said the fa­ther could not fo­cus his at­ten­tion and would not an­swer Tray­lor’s ques­tions fully. Tray­lor thought Wel­born was in­tox­i­cated, he tes­ti­fied.

Af­ter tak­ing Wel­born, as well as the chil­dren’s mother, to the Saline County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, Tray­lor per­formed a breath­a­lyzer test on Wel­born. The re­sults were 0.00, Tray­lor said, ex­plain­ing that the test only mea­sures al­co­hol levels.

Hamp­ton called Tray­lor’s mem­ory into ques­tion since none of Wel­born’s be­hav­iors were noted in

the SCSO re­ports.

Dur­ing Tray­lor’s tes­ti­mony, the jury heard a 911 call from the in­ci­dent as well.

The caller first re­ported to po­lice that a ve­hi­cle, Wel­born’s truck, had been stolen. Even­tu­ally, dur­ing the more than 20-minute call, the dis­patcher learned that the ve­hi­cle with two young chil­dren in­side was in a pond.

The jury heard the dis­patcher as she in­structed Brit­tany Hairston, the chil­dren’s mother, through how to con­duct CPR on her 5-month-old son.

Dur­ing her tes­ti­mony, Hairston was asked about her ac­tions dur­ing the 911 call.

“I’m re­ally fran­tic and I’m re­ally hys­ter­i­cal,” she said as she re­called the in­ci­dent. “My ba­bies, they were in the truck.”

On the call, she could be heard scream­ing.

“How did it go from ‘let’s go home’ to ‘we can’t find the truck?’” Hairston said dur­ing the trial. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Hairston de­scribed her re­la­tion­ship with Wel­born as “toxic” and “on and off.”

She explained that the cou­ple had had a fight ear­lier in the day but had rec­on­ciled. On the af­ter­noon of June 28, the cou­ple had taken the two chil­dren to a lo­cal swim­ming hole and then stopped by a friend’s house on Arkansas 298.

She was drink­ing whiskey at the swim­ming hole and con­tin­ued drink­ing while play­ing pool at the res­i­dence.

Dur­ing her tes­ti­mony, Hairston was ask­ing about her drug us­age in the past, as well as Wel­born’s use of drugs.

She said she had not seen Wel­born drink or use any drugs the day of the in­ci­dent, but did tes­tify that he had abused al­co­hol, metham­phetamine, marijuana and pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion in the past.

Hairston tes­ti­fied that when the fam­ily ar­rived at the res­i­dence, Wel­born stayed in the ve­hi­cle with the chil­dren while she went in­side to play pool. Even­tu­ally, he came into the house.

He told the mother that he would take the chil­dren home to change clothes and then come back to pick her up.

When Wel­born en­tered the house later, Hairston told him he was ready to go home but when the cou­ple went to the ve­hi­cle, it was gone, she tes­ti­fied.

While they were look­ing for the ve­hi­cle, Hairston said she heard scream­ing and ran to the pond where she saw Wel­born and an­other per­son div­ing into the wa­ter to find the chil­dren.

Hairston was quite emo­tional dur­ing her tes­ti­mony. At one point she was over­come by emo­tion and asked to take a break.

For leav­ing the chil­dren in­side the ve­hi­cle unat­tended, Hairston was charged with two charges of en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a mi­nor

As part of an agree­ment in November 2017, when she pleaded guilty, she is re­quired “to tes­tify truth­fully in the trial of Jonathan Wel­born.”

She re­ceived a sen­tence of 72 months pro­ba­tion and is re­quired to at­tend par­ent­ing classes and men­tal health coun­sel­ing. She was asked dur­ing the trial why she pleaded guilty.

“I felt like I failed as a mother,” she said. “I could have just been a bet­ter mom … maybe the sit­u­a­tion could have been dif­fer­ent.”

Dur­ing her tes­ti­mony, Hairston was asked about a let­ter she re­ceived from Wel­born.

He wrote about the in­ci­dent say­ing that po­lice thought he was driv­ing the ve­hi­cle dur­ing the in­ci­dent.

“I don’t know how they know so much with­out be­ing there,” Bush read from the let­ter.

Us­ing a writ­ten tran­script, Hamp­ton asked about state­ments Hairston made to po­lice about Wel­born’s re­la­tion­ship with his chil­dren.

“He loved our kids. He was a good dad. He did a lot for them,” Hamp­ton read from the tran­script.

When asked by Hairston about her mem­ory of the day, she explained that the in­ci­dent was trau­ma­tiz­ing.

“I couldn’t even ex­ist in so­ci­ety,” she said.

A friend who was also at the home, Jeri­coe Cantrell, tes­ti­fied about his mem­ory of the day.

He met Wel­born, Hairston and the chil­dren at the swim­ming hole. Cantrell tes­ti­fied that he taught Sophie how to skip rocks.

Af­ter rid­ing with the fam­ily to the home on Arkansas 298, Cantrell played two games of pool be­fore tak­ing a shower.

He tes­ti­fied that he told both Wel­born and Hairston that they needed to leave and take their chil­dren home.

When the truck was re­ported miss­ing, Cantrell, us­ing a flash­light, helped to look for the ve­hi­cle. He explained that he thought the 2-year-old child may have “knocked the truck out of gear” caus­ing it to roll back­ward.

When he saw a gas can float­ing in the pond, Cantrell jumped in to to help find the chil­dren, he said.

“When my flash­light hit that boy’s face, I au­to­mat­i­cally knew that he was gone,” he said.

The fi­nal wit­ness of the day, Theresa Gar­rett, who lives nearby, tes­ti­fied that she was watch­ing TV at her home when she saw a ve­hi­cle quickly back­ing away from the res­i­dence on Arkansas 298.

She did not know who owned the truck or who was driv­ing at the time of the in­ci­dent, she tes­ti­fied.

Af­ter end­ing at ap­prox­i­mately 5:30 p.m. Tues­day, the trial re­sumed at 9 a.m. to­day.

Wel­born

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