By Sheila McGuire
Uinta County Herald
Via Wyoming News Exchange
EVANSTON — The Mountain View teen convicted last month of first-degree murder has been sentenced to life in prison. Jesse J. Hartley, 19, appeared in Third District Court on the morning of Tuesday, June 4, for sentencing after his conviction on both the murder charge and aggravated child abuse following a four day jury trial in early May.
Hartley was arrested in May 2018 after the death of 2-year-old Brandon Green, who was the son of Hartley’s then girlfriend, Shannon Sherman. During trial, testimony from Dr. Bird Gilmartin, who was called to the emergency room at Evanston Regional Hospital when Green was brought in on May 1, 2018, pointed to severe and extensive injuries that were not consistent with Hartley’s report that Green was found face down in a bathtub.
The medical examiner who conducted the postmortem examination, Dr. Thomas Bennett, testified that the child’s cause of death was abusive head trauma consistent with violent, repetitive shaking.
During the sentencing hearing, Sherman addressed the court and said she will be forever haunted by not only the loss of her son but also because, even after the testimony during trial, “I will never know exactly what happened.” Through her tears, she said she sometimes wished for her little boy to haunt her to give her some insight into what happened that fateful day when she had entrusted her child to the care of her boyfriend.
Sherman acknowledged that no sentence imposed by the court could bring her son back but said Hartley had shown no remorse when arrested for the boy’s murder and he deserved whatever punishment the court imposed.
Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas said the case is undoubtedly a tragic one, as not only did Hartley take the life of a 2-year-old child but also effectively claimed his own life after being convicted of murder at only 19 years of age. Howieson-Kallas said Hartley’s young age — he was only 18 at the time of his arrest — resulted in the State declining to pursue the death penalty, as would be allowed under Wyoming law for a first-degree murder conviction.
State law then left two options for sentencing, including life in prison without parole or life in prison with the possibility of parole. Howieson-Kallas said she has personally struggled with a sentencing recommendation but ultimately recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole given the extensive violent injuries the child suffered.
Hartley’s attorney, Eric Phillips, also referenced Hartley’s age when urging the court to at least provide the opportunity for parole at some point in the future. Phillips was only recently retained by Hartley after Hartley requested a new attorney following trial, during which he was represented by public defender Kent Brown.
Phillips said, “Nothing is going to change the fact that the jury returned a guilty verdict,” adding he didn’t want anything to be interpreted as an attempt to diminish anyone’s pain over the loss of Brandon’s life. However, he said he would hope, given Hartley’s young age, that at some point he would have an opportunity to be a productive member of society and perhaps that knowledge would serve to motivate Hartley to participate in any opportunities available to him while incarcerated.
When asked if he would like to make a statement, Hartley said the court proceedings have been hard for him and said, “I’ve been greatly affected by the pain and hurt of Brandon’s family. I know Brandon’s never coming back, and I’m deeply sorry for the pain they’ve been through.”
District Court Judge Joseph Bluemel said he had considered all mitigating and aggravating factors in the case, including the primary aggravating factor of Green’s extensive injuries and the primary mitigating factor of Hartley’s young age.
Ultimately, Bluemel opted for life in prison with the possibility of parole and said he saw no reason to compound the tragedy of the case. Bluemel also sentenced Hartley to 18 to 25 years in prison for the aggravated child abuse conviction, to run concurrently with the life sentence. He was given credit for the 400 days already served in the Uinta County Jail.
In addition, Hartley was ordered to pay just over $4,000 in legal fees for Brown’s services and approximately $6,800 in restitution for medical bills and funeral expenses related to Green’s death. Bluemel said Hartley would have the possibility to work and pay those expenses, although Phillips argued his client should be declared indigent and incapable of paying given his incarceration.
Hartley was remanded to the custody of the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office for transfer to the Wyoming State Penitentiary.
When asked how many years a person sentenced to life in prison would need to serve before being considered for parole, Howieson-Kallas replied via email. “Per the AG (attorney general), if someone is sentenced to a life sentence then they presumptively serve life. The difference of life with opportunity for parole is that the governor can commute the sentence to a term of years. Once the sentence is commuted to a term of years then parole would become an option similar to any other case. The governor does not have the authority to commute a sentence of life without parole.”