The detective who conducted a second interview of the suspect in the abuse of 2-year-old Jameson Long testified Thursday that Brian O'Grodnick admitted hitting the boy the night before the child was taken to a hospital in critical condition.
Detective Wayne Buck testified at O'Grodnick's preliminary hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court that the 22-year-old boyfriend of Graci Simpson, the child's mother, admitted that he struck the boy several times late evening of May 30 and early morning of May 31. Police and emergency medical help were summoned to the couple's apartment the morning of May 31 regarding an unresponsive child who had stopped breathing.
The toddler died June 2 at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
"The reason was unclear," Buck said of the defendant's admission that he struck the child. "Several times he said he was angry, that he had anger issues."
He said O'Grodnick, who was not the boy's biological father, acknowledged that he resented the child's presence in the couple's home.
Buck's testimony and Prosecutor Theresa Kenney's submission of four cellphone videos the defendant purportedly made showing prior instances of his abuse of the boy and an autopsy report that determined blunt force trauma to be the cause of the child's death were instrumental in convincing Judge Joe Hensley to order O'Grodnick to be tried on a first-degree murder charge and six counts of child abuse.
The Jackson County medical examiner's finding on cause of death took longer than usual because he found it necessary to consult other experts. An initial autopsy report listed the cause of death as undetermined, a fact that public defender Craig Lowe brought out at the hearing by calling Detective Luke Stahl, who supervised the investigation, as a defense witness.
Stahl acknowledged that investigators were frustrated with what was left out of the initial report.
"There was mention of a fall (the boy had suffered), but no mention of statements Mr. O'Grodnick had made," Stahl told the court.
A second autopsy report listing the cause of death as blunt force trauma was issued after police and the prosecutor's office contacted the medical examiner about the matter.
The child's mother testified at the hearing that the boy had suffered a prior fall down some steps and may have suffered another fall in their bathroom. She said she saw him fall backward down three or four steps in their home. She did not witness the other fall in the days preceding the child's death. She said O'Grodnick woke her up to tell her that he had fallen in the bathroom and hit his head.
Officer Ben Eckels was called by Kenney to testify as to what he found when he answered the 911 call to the couple's apartment on East Eighth Street. He said O'Grodnick met him outside the apartment complex and led him in a back door where he found Simpson kneeling over her son on the floor. Eckels said his first thought was that the boy had somehow been asphyxiated. Then he noticed the bruising on his face.
He did a sternum rub on the child to try to get a reaction. He couldn't see the boy's chest rise and fall and could feel no pulse. Paramedics arrived at that point and took over rescue efforts, transporting the child to the emergency room of Freeman Hospital West.
Eckels acknowledged on cross-examination by Lowe that Simpson told him her son had been having seizures recently. He also acknowledged that she showed him a cellphone video she'd made of the seizure he had just been experiencing and that you could hear a woman laughing in the background on the video.
Simpson testified that her son had been suffering seizures for about a month before his death. She said she has a history of seizures and believed doctors would be able to manage her son's seizures as well.
Lowe asked Stahl if police had looked into the child's seizures as possible contributing factor to his injuries.
"I was aware he had seen a doctor," Stahl said.
"For seizures?" Lowe asked.
Stahl testified that investigators were aware of the claim that the child had suffered seizures before the day of the 911 call but could not find any evidence of seizures observed by doctors.
Detective Dustin Moyer testified that he saw bruises around one of the boy's eyes, on the side of his head and on his chin when he went to the emergency room that day. Hospital staff had the child on "assisted breathing" at the time, he said.
Moyer later conducted the first interview of O'Grodnick at the Joplin police station. He said the defendant told him that he and Simpson had been together three or four months and had lived together about two months. He said he eventually asked O'Grodnick if police could have a look at his cellphone and that he consented.
Detective Larry Roller found a video on the phone dated April 21, two more dated April 22 and a fourth dated May 1 on which investigators could see O'Grodnick committing abusive acts with the boy. Moyer said in one video, the child was seated on a counter and O'Grodnick was "squeezing his face to the point that both sides of his mouth were touching."
The videos showed him pulling the child's hair and other acts of abuse, he said.
"He admitted that he did perform those acts and made those videos," Moyer told the court.
The judge reviewed the videos in question in chambers after the hearing and before his decision to order the defendant to stand trial. He set O'Grodnick's initial appearance in a trial division for Oct. 7.