By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer
White River Junction — A 31-year-old Hartford man pleaded not guilty on Thursday to a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend’s young son last summer.
At the end of the arraignment, a judge ordered Luke Theriault held without bail pending an evidence hearing , expected within about 10 days.
Theriault, who has spent most of his life in the Upper Valley, was living with his girlfriend and her 2-year-old son, Jamaal Jayden Turkvan, when the toddler was found unresponsive in their Bugbee Street apartment on the morning of July 4, 2013.
An autopsy determined Jamaal’s death was the result of internal injuries caused by blunt force trauma to the abdomen, “likely attributed to multiple blows with a fist or with the points of fingers, either knuckles or finger points,” according to court documents.
Theriault was arrested at his Maple Street apartment on Wednesday afternoon following an investigation by Hartford Police that included the boy’s mother, Kayleigh Munyon, wearing a hidden police recording device during conversations with Theriault in the months after the boy died.
In multiple interviews with authorities since Jamaal’s death and in the secretly recorded conversations with Munyon, Theriault has said he does not know how the boy was injured, according to court documents. He did not speak during his arraignment on Thursday.
Authorities contend that Theriault and Munyon were the only people with access to Jamaal during the time frame when authorities allege the injuries occurred.
On Thursday, prosecutors officially charged Theriault with second-degree murder.
In court on Thursday, Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said the force required to cause Jamaal’s injuries was significant.
“They were extremely forceful of the nature that the injuries would often not be seen in an automobile or bicycle accident, and in fact it would be exceptional” to see such injuries in those scenarios, Cahill said.
The maximum sentence for the charge is life in prison without parole.
Munyon had initially attributed Jamaal’s death to a head injury for which she had repeatedly sought medical care in the weeks before his death, according to police affidavits.
However, following an autopsy, New Hampshire’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner concluded that Jamaal’s death was a homicide caused by “abdominal injuries sustained when he was assaulted by another person,” according to a medical report included in court documents.
New Hampshire Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Jennie Duval did not find evidence of bleeding in the brain or “gross evidence of brain injury,” according to a police affidavit submitted by Hartford Police Detective Michael Tkac. The affidavit quoted Duval as reporting contusions on the toddler’s upper abdomen and lower chest were “consistent with knuckles from a fist blow or, possibly, fingertips from prodding.”
The affidavit said Duval concluded: “In the absence of significant accidental trauma (e.g. motor vehicle or bicycle accident or fall), the internal abdominal injuries … would require a forceful blow to the midline of the upper abdomen/lower chest.”
According to the affidavit, Duval said Jamaal’s injuries were sustained within about 24 hours of his death. He was last seen alive late on the night of July 3, and Munyon found him unresponsive around 9 a.m. the following morning, leading authorities to conclude that the toddler was “struck with the fatal blow to his stomach sometime during the late evening of July 2 to the morning of July 3.”
In court, Cahill said that Theriault, Munyon and Jamaal were the only people at their home during this timeframe.
Munyon told authorities that Jamaal was fine when he went to bed on July 2. According to the affidavit, Munyon went to bed shortly after the boy. Theriault, who had been at a friend’s house, came home later — he told police he returned around 10:30 p.m., and Munyon said he came to bed around 4 a.m. Later that morning, according to the affidavit, Jamaal was not acting normally when Munyon went to wake him for day care, Munyon said.
One piece of evidence that Cahill emphasized on Thursday was a comment that Theriault made to investigators suggesting the toddler may have been having stomach problems before he died. Investigators had not released that information.
“Many of the people involved in this case naturally concluded that, because young Jamaal had multiple bruises on his head, that it must have been a head injury that did him in,” Cahill said. “It’s telling that Mr. Theriault was the first person involved in this case other than the medical examiner to raise the issue that perhaps baby Jamaal had a stomachache, maybe that’s why he was feeling sick. The fact that Mr. Theriault knew something that only the medical examiner knew is probative of this case.”
Daniel Stevens, the public defender, said the state was misinterpreting the medical examiner’s time window for when Jamaal could have sustained such injuries. He also disputed that Theriault suggesting the toddler may have been having stomach problems before investigators made it public was evidence that Theriault had caused the injuries that killed the boy.
“It took a doctor to come up with the cause of death,” Stevens said. “I don’t think it’s probative of anything.”
Cahill said in court that Theriault “did not mourn Jamaal” and said his interest in Jamaal was in using his funeral money to pay back-rent. In police interviews included in the affidavit, a neighbor said Jamaal “cowered” around Theriault and day care workers said Jamaal told them he did not like Theriault.
The toddler had been treated at DHMC multiple times for a large bruise on the side of his head that was discovered on June 21.
People interviewed told police that Jamaal was reluctant to say how he got the bruise but ultimately told them that another child at day care had thrown a blue ball at him.
Police allege that Theriault asked Jamaal leading questions to get the toddler to say that.
Cahill said Theriault is currently on probation related to charges of reckless endangerment after he allegedly fired a round from a handgun that entered a neighbor’s apartment.
Following Theriault’s arrest on Wednesday, police officers initially cited Theriault for first-degree murder and aggravated domestic assault. Cahill said prosecutors later identified second-degree murder as the appropriate charge.
Judge Karen Carroll said that because of the severity of the murder and assault charges and possible penalties, the court was allowed to make considerations beyond risk of flight, including a defendant’s potential danger to the community and whether the defendant would abide by conditions of release.
She said the court was “not confident” that Theriault would do so, despite significant ties to the community, including his own children. He most recently was employed at Murphy’s on the Green restaurant in Hanover, his defense lawyer said.
Another hearing, during which the state will have to show that the evidence of guilt is great, should be held within about 10 days, Carroll said.
An online message sent to Munyon on Thursday afternoon was not returned. Attempts to reach Jamaal’s father, 33-year-old Jamaal J. Turkvan, were not successful. Neither was seen in court.
Phone messages left with Jamaal’s paternal grandmother, Shirley Jefferson, were not returned.
About a dozen people were in the galley during Thursday’s hearing, many of them declining to identify themselves afterward. One man wearing an orange T-shirt held a closed fist in the air toward Theriault when he was first led into the courtroom in shackles, and later called out, “Keep your head up, my dude,” as Theriault was led away.
Theriault has three children of his own, according to his defense lawyer, and was recently granted weekly visitation rights to see one of them.