Fayette County

Man accused of murdering 2-year-old goes on trial in Lexington

On the morning of Nov. 25, 2008, 2-year-old Jessica Mary Nolan fell in a bathtub, was smacked in the face and was fallen upon by Leamon Wesner as he was trying to do a kick-flip maneuver on his skateboard, one of Wesner's attorneys told a Fayette Circuit Court jury Monday.

Jessica died that night at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital after she was removed from life support. She had bruises over much of her body, a torn muscle in her spine and bleeding in her skull and eyes, according to prosecutors.

Defense attorney Matthew Browning said the toddler's death was accidental. Prosecutors are calling it murder and are trying to prove that Wesner, at the time Jessica's mother's boyfriend, was the culprit.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kimberly Henderson Baird showed jurors a series of pictures outlining Jessica's short life — one showing a happy child, another depicting her room filled with stuffed animals, and others showing her bruised, lifeless body — and matter-of-factly told them about the events that occurred the day Jessica died.

Jessica and her mother, Jackie Nolan, moved to Lexington from New York in February 2008, the mother testified. They stayed at the Salvation Army for a while and later lived with friends. Nolan befriended Wesner several months after moving to Lexington — about September 2008 — and she, her daughter and Wesner eventually moved into a two-bedroom apartment on Michigan Street.

Nolan worked at a pizza restaurant to pay the bills, taking a bus to and from work. Wesner, described by Browning as a tattoo artist from Ohio who had been married and had children of his own, did a couple of tattoos to earn money while living with Jackie and Jessica Nolan, the mother testified.

While Jackie Nolan worked, a neighbor who was called "Big Mama" usually cared for Jessica. Wesner went out almost every night, usually returning about 3 a.m., and often was sleeping when Jackie Nolan left for work, the mother said.

Jessica, who was born July 5, 2006, was a child "who was no trouble at all," Henderson Baird, the prosecutor, said.

But on Nov. 25, 2008, Jackie Nolan returned home from a short trip to the downtown area to find her daughter lying on a couch, her eyes halfway open, gasping for air, the mother said. Nolan had left her daughter in Wesner's care because it was cold outside and Big Mama could not baby-sit that day.

Wesner asked Nolan whether Jessica was prone to seizures. Nolan said no. She said she had to tell Wesner to call 911.

Jurors listened to a tape of that call.

The then-30-year-old Wesner is heard telling a paramedic that the girl "fell and busted her head" in the bathtub after defecating on herself.

"I'm not good with kids," he said later during the emergency call. "This is why I don't baby-sit."

Henderson Baird said Wesner has changed his story about what happened to Jessica several times.

But Browning told jurors he thought they would find that Wesner has always told the same story. The defense attorney said police told Wesner his legal rights, told him he did not have to talk to them and if he did so what he said could be used against him. Wesner decided to talk to authorities "despite these dire warnings," Browning said.

The defense attorney asked jurors to pay close attention to experts who will be testifying and indicated that one of them, a doctor, will say that Jessica's death probably was accidental.

The trial is expected to end this week.

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