Jury will begin deliberations Thursday in Henderson trial

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)
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - The fate of Tre Henderson, charged in the 2018 beating death of 5-year-old Ja’Shawn Bussell, will soon be in the hands of a Scott County jury.

The jury on Wednesday afternoon listened to more than three hours of closing arguments on the eighth day of the 28-year-old Chicago man’s trial.

District Court Judge Thomas Reidel then dismissed them for the day and ordered them to return Thursday morning to listen to the rest of jury instructions. They will then will begin to deliberate.

Henderson is charged with first-degree murder, child endangerment-multiple acts, and child endangerment resulting in death.

Bussell’s mother, Jacqueline Rambert, 26, also of Chicago, pleaded guilty Jan. 24 to two counts of child endangerment and will be sentenced on March 20.

According to trial testimony, Rambert called 911 the night of April 27, 2018, and said her son was choking and unresponsive in their apartment on Emerald Drive in Davenport.

Bussell was rushed to a local hospital and then airlifted to University Hospitals in Iowa City. He died May 1, 2018, from complications due to blunt force injuries to his head.

Rambert testified last week that Henderson told her he beat the boy with a belt after he urinated and soiled himself on April 20, 2018.

Two days later, she was at work when Henderson brought Bussell to her workplace and said he fell off the kitchen counter.

Over the next several days, the boy was vomiting and barely eating, Rambert said.

She admitted that she punched the boy in his side, breaking his ribs, at one point because she was frustrated and nervous when he would not stop biting his lip.

Henderson testified Wednesday that he never struck the boy or hit him with a belt. He also denied causing Bussell’s fatal injury and said he never saw Rambert hit the boy.

Scott County Attorney Mike Walton said in his closing argument that this case is about cruelty and that the injuries to Bussell were “almost unthinkable.”

“It’s almost unbearable, but it happened, we know it happened, we have to begin with that reality,” he said. “This boy was murdered. This was not an accident.”

He pointed to several videos Henderson made of interactions he had with the boy, who appeared “terrified,” in the last days of his life.

Henderson deleted those videos, Walton said, while Bussell was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

He took the jury through Bussell’s injuries, which included 20 severe blunt force injury trauma, a severe brain injury, 17 broken ribs, and bruising from his head to his feet.

It’s a fair question, Walton said, as to why Henderson felt it was necessary to create a “false scenario” that the boy was hurt in a fall from the kitchen counter.

“Those injuries were not accidental, and Ja’Shawn told us that,” Walton said. “As Ja’Shawn lay in a coma, his physical body tells us what happened to him. Even in death, Ja’Shawn’s physical body can tell us what happened.

“And it wasn’t a fall from a counter.”

He pointed to the testimony of a pediatric radiologist who testified that the type of violent, significant trauma to Bussell’s brain is something typically seen in someone who was in a high-speed vehicle crash.

Walton argued the evidence shows Bussell’s received the fatal injury closer to April 27, 2018, not April 22. Both days, Bussell was in the sole custody of Henderson while Rambert was at work, he said.

Walton further argued that Henderson’s story had several inconsistencies.

Defense attorney Michael Adams said in his closing argument that prosecutors failed to prove how and when Bussell received his fatal injury. They also failed to prove who inflicted it, he said.

Adams argued that although the videos showed Henderson lacked “good parenting skills,” it did not equate to physical abuse.

“It definitely does not equate to murder,” he said and noted that the videos do not depict Henderson physically harming Bussell.

Adams said Henderson has always maintained that he never harmed the boy, while Rambert has admitted to hitting him before Henderson came to Davenport in late February 2018. At least one of those times she hit him with a belt, he said.

She also admitted to striking Bussell after Henderson came to Davenport, Adams said.

He also pointed to the testimony of a former babysitter who said she saw bruises on Bussell when she watched him in early January 2018 to Feb. 25, 2018.

Adams said Rambert also was at home with Bussell from April 23-April 26, 2018 and could have further harmed him.

“We have the testimony to guide us, and that testimony shows it was Ms. Rambert and not Mr. Henderson who did this,” Adams said.