PRESTONSBURG — Testimony is ongoing this week in the Floyd County Circuit Court trial of Jason Dickerson, who stands accused of charges including criminal abuse and murder in the death of his two-year-old nephew, Watson Adkins.
Witnesses included Watson’s older brother 10-year-old Braxton May, Jason’s wife Gladys, child caretakers, and the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.
Tuesday afternoon, Detective Donnie McGraw with Kentucky State Police Post 8 in Morehead testified that troopers with Post 8 served the arrest warrants for Jason Dickerson and his wife, Gladys, at Jason’s parents’ home in Sandy Hook on Saturday, October 1, 2011, two days after Watson’s death in Prestonsburg.
Prosecutors played for the jury the tape of Jason’s discussion with Post 8 detectives, his second interview with police in three days. In this tape, detectives tell Jason that his story “is not flying at all,” and that Watson’s siblings, who were interviewed at Judi’s Place in Pikeville, have admitted they were abused. Detectives tell Jason that the kids are not making this stuff up, and Jason—who had maintained he never physically disciplined the children—eventually changes his story.
“I have given them a whipping,” Jason says on the tape. “I have, Gladys has.”
The prosecution called several more witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday. Janet Owens, who lived next door to the Dickersons on Town Branch, testified that the children were often left unsupervised, and that she once saw Jason dragging Watson by the arm and cursing at him. She also said that on the day of Watson’s death, a Dodge Durango she had not seen before was at the home around 4 p.m., and Jason had a discussion with the occupants.
Crystal Howard, Gladys’ sister, testified that she and their mother Mary Skaggs visited the Dickerson’s Town Branch home on that day, driving her Dodge Durango. No one answered the phone or knocks on the door, although Gladys’ vehicle was parked in the driveway with her purse on the hood. When Jason and his parents arrived, Jason claimed Gladys and the children were not home, and that he did not have a key to get inside. In neither of his interviews with the police did Jason mention this unusual visit from his mother- and sister-in-law, or that Gladys had been away from the home that day.
Dr. Kristy K. Shutts, the pediatrician who saw Watson and his siblings, testified that she did not see anything indicative of abuse in the summer of 2011, but after Watson’s death, she did help social workers catalog extensive bruises on Watson’s older siblings Cameron and Alyssa.
Four different people who live in the Hager Hill trailer park Jason’s family was moving to testified that the children who played in the neighborhood were supervised, that Watson was not injured by an older boy, and that Jason did not approach any of them and tell them about such an incident—a story he did tell detectives.
Workers at the Dinosaur Playland Daycare Center where Watson and his siblings were enrolled also took the stand, one of whom said Jason explained Watson’s head injury with a story about jumping on the couch and hitting the coffee table—very different from the story about falling in the bathtub he told investigators and the pediatrician.
Perhaps the prosecution’s star witness was Braxton, now 10 years old, who moved out of the house a few months before Watson’s death. He testified to the specifics of the abuse he and his younger siblings suffered in the Dickerson household, including time-outs lasting a matter of hours, cold showers and baths, being held underwater, being beaten and stomped, punches to their groin, being locked in a dark basement, being picked up and knocked headfirst into the ceiling, having their heads held near a running ceiling fan, and having food forcibly shoved down their throats followed by a punch in the stomach, which often ended in vomiting.
After each account of abuse, prosecutors were careful to clarify that at no point was Jason just joking around, that he did these things when angry, and that they hurt.
Finally, on Wednesday, Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Kristin Rolf took the stand. A veteran of 17 years and at least 3,000 autopsies, Dr. Rolf says she had never seen anything like some of the injuries she noted on Watson during his autopsy. She said that for a span of 29 centimeters of his small intestine, the muscle tissue had become detached, resulting in the death of the tissue and a condition that necessitated life-saving surgery. She testified his condition, which also included severe internal bleeding and many dozens of bruises and abrasions across the body, was the result of a lengthy abuse.
Critically, she testified that in Watson’s condition, he did not need any additional trauma or assault to push him over the edge, and that he could have been internally bleeding to death for hours or days.
Thursday morning saw two more critical witnesses in the case. Watson’s biological mother, Rhoda Lewis, who lost custody of the children in February 2011 due to a substance abuse problem, testified that during her visitations over the summer, she noted and photographed numerous bruises. She notified social workers, her attorney, the judge in her case, and the office of the ombudsman in Frankfort, to no effect. Jason and Gladys denied allegations of abuse, and Rhoda lost visitation rights in August and was found in contempt of court for her confrontation with the judge.
Gladys Dickerson, who is also facing charges of murder and criminal abuse in the case but will be tried separately, took the stand as well. Prosecutors made clear that she had not been offered any leniency or any kind of agreement in exchange for her testimony.
Item by item, Gladys corroborated the forms of abuse that Braxton had outlined, and gave a detailed account of the hours leading up to Watson’s death.
Gladys says the night before, she found Watson lying on the ground, Jason standing over him with a foot on his stomach. Later that night, she says Jason also punched him in the stomach, and lifted him onto the back of the couch, straddling it, and bashed his groin repeatedly against it. She says Watson was unable to defecate, complaining of stomach pains, and she gave him a mild pain reliever before the family went to bed. She says Jason was eventually aware of the extent of Watson’s injuries, and at one point told her, “Oh God, if he makes it through this, it’ll never happen again.”
The next morning, Watson refused to eat breakfast, and spent his day lying on the couch, watching cartoons. Gladys testified that she and the children were home when her sister and mother visited in the middle of the day, locking the doors and ignoring the phone until Jason and his parents came home. Once Gladys’ sister and mother left, Jason left behind them, and Gladys says Jason called home from a payphone to make certain they were gone before he returned.
Moments after Jason and his parents had departed again, Gladys found Watson unresponsive, and called 911 while administering CPR.
The prosecution’s case is expected to wrap up this week, before the defense begins their case on Monday.