The jury selection process began Monday for a grand jury trial of an Ash Fork woman accused of killing her 6-year-old nephew in 2015.
Lillian Hester was indicted in May 2016 on one count of first-degree murder and one count of child abuse in the death of her nephew, Jason Hester.
The trial is slated to last for five weeks and will begin as soon as the jury of 12 plus two alternates are chosen.
According to the 2015 report from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Lillian, 37, called 911 at 12:50 p.m. on June 22, 2015, to report that her nephew had stopped breathing at her Ash Fork home.
When sheriff’s deputies and Kaibab Estates West fire personnel arrived, they found Lillian and her mother, Lenda Hester, 64, performing CPR on Jason.
Jason was pronounced dead about three hours later at Flagstaff Medical Center. The Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office was unable to determine an official cause of death through an autopsy.
Lillian was the child’s primary caregiver, and he lived in her home with his sister and Lillian’s four children for his entire life. Lillian’s boyfriend, Jason Conlee, 36, had also been living with them for nine months. Because of reported behavioral problems, at one point Jason was living with Lenda and her common-law husband, Kimmy Wilson, 61, for several months.
A week before Jason died, Lillian’s 12-year-old nephew came to stay with her temporarily, after getting in trouble for stealing his father’s car. The 12-year-old shared a room with Jason, and Lillian said the two did not get along, adding that Jason’s behavior started to change.
At the time of his death, Jason was 41 inches tall and weighed 29 pounds.
One of the responding deputies noted how small Jason was for a 6-year-old boy and said there were scratches on his face. Another deputy described the child as abnormally thin.
Coconino County medical examiners found no significant internal injuries that could have contributed to Jason’s death, but they did find numerous scrapes, cuts and bruises on the boy’s face, scalp and body. An X-ray revealed a fractured arm that had never healed properly. The boy was seriously underweight and showed signs of dehydration. The autopsy report listed the above findings as “suspicious of child neglect.”
Lillian and Lenda explained Jason’s injuries as self-inflicted and his thinness as the result of rapid weight loss from refusing to eat for a week. They described Jason as a troubled and sometimes violent child, saying he was prone to self-harm and that they took measures to prevent him from hurting himself or putting himself in danger.
Right after his death, Lillian told detectives she should have taken him to a doctor but she had no insurance. Jason’s last doctor appointment was in 2013, but Lillian had taken her own child to the hospital for abdominal pain two months before Jason's death.
According to the sheriff’s report, the father of Lillian’s children told detectives he believed Lillian did not like Jason. He said his daughters had told him in 2012 or 2013 that Lillian was keeping Jason locked up in his bedroom. The girls also told their father Lillian would use a rope to lock Jason in a high chair and that she was not giving Jason any water.
Also accused in Jason’s death were Lenda, Wilson and Conlee, who were each indicted on one charge of negligent homicide and one count of child abuse. There was no information available on potential trial dates for them at press time.