BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The last words of 3-year-old James Lee Fanshier were, "Goodnight mama, I love you."
His body, however, spoke volumes to the forensic investigators who examined him following his death. The child had suffered broken ribs, a broken arm, injuries to his pancreas, bowels and genitals, and bruising over much of his body.
No one noticed any injuries to James until Dustin Wedel came into his life.
Prosecutor Andrea Kohler asked a jury during closing arguments Friday to find Wedel guilty of charges including murder in James' death. She said Wedel, 27, was the only person around James during the time the boy's most severe injury occurred.
That injury -- a split section of the small intestine -- could only have been caused by a powerful blow to the stomach, Kohler said. The forensic pathologist who testified during the trial said the injury likely occurred six to 12 hours before James' death.
"We're talking about a callous and cruel act," Kohler said.
The trial began Oct. 25.
James died Jan. 23, 2011. The coroner's office ruled the cause of death as multiple blunt force injuries.
James lived with Wedel and Stormy Roberts in Taft. Roberts took care of the boy for most of his life, keeping him after she ended a relationship with Eavan Fanshier, James' biological father.
The biological mother, Sommer Ruiz, has struggled with drugs and hadn't taken much of a role in James' life since he was a year old.
Roberts loved James, and he loved her, Kohler said. She wanted him in her life, treated him as if he was her own child.
Wedel dated Roberts shortly after she broke up with Fanshier. Kohler said he didn't care for James, even asking Roberts to return him to Fanshier.
Kohler has said Wedel was jealous of the attention Roberts lavished on the boy.
Defense attorney Fred Gagliardini repeatedly told jurors that "forensic science just isn't that good." He said there's no telling for certain when specific injuries were inflicted on James.
Gagliardini said the forensic pathologist testified that the overall health of a person can affect accuracy when it comes to dating injuries. James was not a healthy boy.
He was in the fifth percentile in height and weight among boys his age. He had bad teeth and gums, and Gagliardini said several people who knew James said "you could touch him and he would bruise."
A couple of James' young cousins testified during the trial that they didn't like Wedel and had witnessed him hurting James on different occasions. Gagliardini said that testimony is suspect because one of the cousins said her father had told her that Wedel killed James.
The attorney said one of the investigators in the case, Kern County sheriff's Sgt. Avery Simpson, let his emotions get the better of him and didn't maintain objectivity during the investigation. Simpson admitted during cross-examination Wednesday to calling Wedel a "piece of (expletive deleted)" in front of Roberts' relatives, and to sharing descriptions of James' injuries before the autopsy report was made public.
Simpson made these comments a few days after James' death. Gagliardini noted that Simpson also told Roberts' relatives he had plenty of evidence against Wedel.
Gagliardini found that statement puzzling because it wasn't until six months later that detectives arrested his client. Gagliardini said there's no hard evidence against Wedel, only circumstantial evidence, and it's not enough to convict him.
The attorney said there's a large group of people who could be responsible for James' injuries. Fanshier denied knowing why Roberts ended their relationship, but Gagliardini said it occurred after Roberts found him whipping his then-2-year-old son with a belt on his bare buttocks while forcing him to face the wall and stand on the tips of his toes.
Lastly, there's another possibility regarding James' death: It could have been an accident, Gagliardini said.
He asked the jurors if it was unreasonable to believe that James suffered the split intestine while playing on a jungle gym the day before his death. He said a child as small and frail as James could easily become badly hurt.
Closing arguments resume Monday with Kohler's rebuttal.