Woman to stand trial in Jeannette tot’s death
It was difficult for Rebecca Everett of Jeannette to sit in a Cambria County courtroom Friday and listen to the violent details of her 10-month-old son’s Sept. 3 death.
She wiped away tears throughout the two-and-a-half-hour preliminary hearing, but she was pleased with the end result — homicide charges being held for trial against the former fiancee of the infant’s father, she said.
“It was kind of hard to rehear and to hear new things,” she said. “The facts don’t lie.”
Cambria County Senior District Judge Charity Nileski ordered Hayley Nichole Butler, 23, of Johnstown to stand trial in Brennon Everett’s death at the end of the hearing Friday.
Testimony from a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh doctor indicated that Brennon suffered violent abuse that led to several fractures, brain swelling and bleeding, as well as injuries consistent with whiplash or shaking. Prosecutors believe that Butler was the only person with Brennon at the time a 911 call was placed.
Paramedic Jerry Hileman Jr. testified that he responded to Butler’s Johnstown home at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 15 and found Brennon unresponsive, not breathing and lying face up on a table. Hileman said he managed to get the infant’s heart to begin beating again while in an ambulance on the way to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.
Brennon was later taken by medical helicopter to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Rachel Berger testified about her observations of Brennon at Children’s and interviews with Butler, the boy’s father — Shawn Hill, 28, formerly of Jeannette — and Everett. Hill was not home at the time and is not charged. He declined to comment after the hearing.
Berger said Brennon had bruises on his face and head, extensive brain swelling, bleeding in both eyes and multiple healing fractures, including a violent one in his upper left arm, two in his lower left leg and four rib fractures.
She couldn’t pinpoint a time frame in which the fractures may have occurred, but Berger testified that the upper arm break and the head injuries are consistent with abusive trauma.
“It had to have just happened,” Berger testified. “With this type of injury, as soon as this happened, the child is probably unconscious.”
In addition, Brennon sustained swelling of ligaments and muscles on his spine that would indicate he was shaken, Berger testified.
“That is a very significant injury for us to see,” she said.
Brennon died Sept. 3 after being taken off life support.
His death was ruled a homicide, Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski testified.
Johnstown police Detective Julie Wagner testified that she heard a few explanations of Brennon’s injuries from the defendant between Aug. 15 and 22.
Butler claimed that she left Brennon downstairs standing at a chair in the dining room while she used an upstairs restroom when she heard a thud downstairs and found the boy unresponsive. Later, Wagner testified, Butler said that she put the boy in the playpen upstairs, not far from the bathroom, and heard the thud.
“There was discussion that she changed her story,” Wagner testified.
Assistant District Attorney Tamara Bernstein asked the detective how the defendant responded.
“That she did not change it, that I misunderstood,” Wagner testified.
Butler was arrested two days after Brennon’s death.
A criminal complaint stated that Brennon weighed 16 pounds at a May 1 doctor’s appointment. He went to live with Butler and Hill later that month, according to the affidavit. The child had lost more than 2 pounds by a doctor’s visit on July 16, and he was diagnosed with malnutrition, police said.
Butler’s defense attorneys made no argument during the hearing and did not comment afterward.
She is being held in the Cambria County jail without bail on charges of homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or [email protected].