PRESTONSBURG — At the conclusion of his trial for murder and child abuse in Floyd County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon, Jason Dickerson was found guilty on all counts by a jury of his peers.
Defense attorney Ned Pillersdorf spent Monday outlining his case that Jason could not be responsible for the death of his 2-year-old nephew, Watson Adkins. His expert witness, retired forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Wetli, testified that, given the lack of inflammation he saw in the autopsy records, he believed Watson died from blunt force trauma inflicted recently before his death. Dr. Wetli offered an estimated timeframe of 2-to-6 hours before death for such an injury to have occurred — time when Jason Dickerson was not home.
Under cross-examination, Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brent Turner categorically challenged Dr. Wetli’s findings. Turner began reading excerpts from one of the books Dr. Wetli had co-authored, and previous testimony Dr. Wetli had given in other trials, citing passages about child abuse syndrome and a medical diagnosis of fatal abuse, and asked how they did not match the description of Watson’s autopsy report.
The exchange grew heated, with Dr. Wetli maintaining that he saw no evidence of chronic abuse in the autopsy, and Turner challenging that with the findings of Dr. Kristin Rolf, the medical examiner, and Dr. Melissa Currie, a pediatrician who specializes in child abuse cases. He also made a clear point about Dr. Wetli’s financial gains as a consultant in cases like this; though Wetli at first said he makes roughly $350,000 annually from such work, he had testified in a previous case the average was closer to $500,000. He stands to profit roughly $10,000 so far from the Dickerson case alone.
Pillersdorf next called upon Jason’s parents, Larry and Wanda Dickerson, to testify as to Jason’s whereabouts that day. They corroborated accounts that he spent most of the day away from the Town Branch home where Watson died, working on the family’s new trailer in Johnson County. If the jury believed Dr. Wetli’s testimony, the alibi would have completely exonerate Jason in the death.
Turner again parried, using Larry Dickerson’s interviews with the police to undermine his credibility. Reading from the transcript, Turner pointed out 12 times that Larry Dickerson told police that on the afternoon of Watson’s death, he had seen Watson wave and say, “Hi,” a story Larry was less sure about on the witness stand and would be impossible if Watson were already dead at the time, as the medical examiner testified.
Closing arguments lasted into the afternoon. Pillersdorf offered a compelling case that Gladys Dickerson’s statements about the extent of the abuse were not to be believed, because she must have had an ulterior motive in testifying against her husband.
Turner then offered his frank and often emotional closing arguments. He called Dr. Wetli’s testimony “bullcrap,” recalling the medical expertise from previous witnesses that the necrosis of Watson’s intestine could not have taken place in just a few hours. He later described Dr. Wetli as willing to twist words for a dollar, calling him “a whore,” a label the defense objected to and which Judge Johnny Ray Harris instructed jurors to disregard.
On Gladys’ credibility, Turner remarked, “Don’t believe her, I don’t care. Throw her out the window.” He instead directed jurors to recall the testimony of Watson’s older brother Braxton May, who also told jurors about the extent of the abuse.
Jurors spent less than five minutes in deliberation before they were ready to return with their verdict. On the charge of murder in the death of Watson and on the four counts of first-degree criminal abuse in the cases of Watson, Cameron, Alyssa, and Braxton, they found Jason Dickerson guilty. They recommended a sentence of life for the murder charge, and 10 years for each of the abuse charges — the maximum for each count.
“We’re disappointed in the result,” Pillersdorf said of the verdict. “I thought the prosecution of the case was probably the best job I’ve seen of prosecuting a defendant in the 33 years I’ve been practicing law. Mr. Dickerson has a right to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, and I recommend he do so.”
Turner was quick to credit the hard work of investigators and his staff in preparation for trial. He says Det. Ryan Hamilton with the Kentucky State Police filed the largest police report he had ever seen in the course of a thorough investigation, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office worked overtime for weeks to prepare for trial.
Formal sentencing for Jason Dickerson will take place next month.