DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Tre Henderson told a Scott County jury Wednesday morning that he never hit or punched 5-year-old Ja’Shawn Bussell when he lived with the boy in 2018.
Tre Henderson, 28, of Chicago, is charged with first-degree murder, child endangerment-multiple acts and child endangerment resulting in death. (KWQC/Scott County Sheriff's Office)
Further, the 28-year-old Chicago man denied he ever hit the boy with a belt, tied him up with shoelaces or locked him in a utility closet as the boy’s mother, Jacqueline Rambert, claimed.
“Did you ever do any of those things when Jackie was at the apartment with you?” defense attorney Jill Eimermann asked.
“Not at all,” he replied.
Henderson testified for less than 90 minutes Wednesday on his eighth day of trial in Scott County District Court. He is charged with first-degree murder, child endangerment-multiple acts, and child endangerment resulting in death.
Eimermann and co-counsel Michael Adams rested their case after Henderson testified.
Closing arguments will begin Wednesday afternoon.
Henderson said he met Rambert early in 2017 when they both worked for a company in Countryside, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
He said Rambert later left the job and moved to Iowa.
Henderson said Rambert contacted him sometime in 2018 and asked him if he wanted to come to Davenport. She said she would help him get a job and asked him to help her out with her son, Henderson said.
He said he agreed and said he wanted to get leave the violence of Chicago for “a change of venue, a change of myself, to do better” so that he could make a better life for his three sons.
According to court testimony, Henderson moved into Rambert’s apartment on Emerald Drive in late February 2018.
Henderson said he watched Bussell while Rambert was at work. He said the two would go to the park, watch “Paw Patrol,” and dance.
“He was a cool, nice young man,” he said of Bussell. “Beautiful young boy.
Rambert, who pleaded
guilty last month to child endangerment charges, testified Feb. 6 that she was working on April 20, 2018, when Henderson texted her and said Bussell had urinated and soiled himself.
She said Henderson later told her he “whooped my son” with a belt.
Henderson testified Wednesday that he texted Rambert about the boy’s accident but said he was not upset about it nor did he punish Bussell.
Henderson said Rambert asked the boy about it when she got home from work. Rambert, he said, looked like she was going to strike him after asking him what happened.
“I grabbed her and said ‘you’re not going to do that,’” Henderson testified.
Two days later on April 22, 2018, Henderson heard a glass break in the kitchen and found Bussell on the floor.
Henderson said he asked Bussell to explain what happened and took a video of it. The video was deleted off his phone and was later recovered by police, according to trial testimony.
He said Bussell had a knot on his head and took Bussell to Rambert’s workplace because he felt she needed to get him medical attention.
He said he didn’t take Bussell to the hospital because he didn’t know the boy’s medical history or had his insurance cards or other documents. He said he also was concerned that there would be an issue because he was not the boy’s biological father.
Henderson said Rambert said she would take Bussell to get treatment when they went to Chicago later that day to attend a funeral.
They ultimately did not go to Chicago because their car broke down, Henderson said.
In the following days, Bussell did not eat much and was vomiting, according to trial testimony.
Rambert at one point told Henderson that Bussell was hitting his head against the tub while taking a bath and asked him to tell him to stop.
Henderson said he saw the boy shaking and he took a cup and poured water on Bussell because he thought he might be cold. The temperature of the water was warm, he said.
Rambert testified she had hit the boy in his ribs that day. Henderson testified Wednesday that he was not aware she Bussell, but said he noticed the boy walking funny and commented that he seemed hurt.
He said he told her that she needed to take Bussell to the hospital. She told him, “whatever, whatever,” he said.
According to trial testimony, neither Rambert nor Henderson sought medical treatment.
Rambert went back to work on the morning of April 27, 2018. Henderson said he woke up around 11 a.m. and the boy was lying in bed with him and said he wanted to watch “Paw Patrol.”
Henderson Bussell ate later that afternoon, bathed himself, put on his pajamas and went to sleep in his bedroom.
Henderson said he told Rambert he heard Bussell choking in his sleep.
Rambert testified she had checked on the boy after getting home from work. The last time she checked on him, she noticed he was unresponsive and called 911.
She said Henderson told her to hang up the phone and help him perform CPR.
Henderson testified Wednesday that Rambert had told him that she needed to call her mother and started to walk off. He said he blew into Bussell’s mouth and tried to see if he had something stuck in his airway.
“I said ‘Jackie you need to help me see what’s wrong with your child,” Henderson said.
Bussell was rushed to a local hospital and then airlifted to University Hospitals in Iowa City. He died on May 1, 2018, from complications due to blunt force injuries to the head.
He also had bruises on his body, 17 fractures to his ribs, and other injuries.
Henderson said he "forced" Rambert to go to the police station the next day to talk to police.
He said he offered to go to the hospital with Rambert the next day but said she told him not to. He then decided to go back to Chicago.
He said he didn’t know he had been charged in Bussell’s death until his arrested in August 2018.
When questioned by Scott County Attorney Mike Walton, Henderson said he was alone most of the day with Bussell on April 22 and April 27, 2018.
He also said he never saw Rambert hit her son.