The Death of Juliette Geurts
As of late I have gotten into the habit of researching three to four cases before I sit down and compose them for publication. On the rare occasion, a case grabs me immediately and this is one of them. Crimes that involve the deaths of children are often the hardest to research from an emotional level. This case is made this much harder because the case was not just or only fumbled from the beginning it seems, it feels as if this case was not given the diligence that it deserved and in the end it took a petition started by the child's aunt to even get anyone in court at all. Even still not everyone got the legal justice they deserved in my opinion.
Two other cases came to mind while researching this case. First was the case of JonBonet Ramsey. As we all know this was a case of a child found dead in her own home with people present but two major things have brought that case to a point that it is unlikely anyone will ever be charged. First and foremost the investigators “bungled” the case from the start. The second thing that destroyed the case was the lack of cooperation from those in the home. The other case that the case of Juliette Geurts reminded me of, even more than JonBonet, is the case of Haleigh Cummings. The difference here is that Juliette's body was found and a definitive cause of death was made.... homicide. The biggest similarity to the Cummings case was not just the lack of cooperation given by those thought to be involved, but the lifestyle that the child was forced to live in that likely lead to their deaths.
On July 11, 2008 authorities in Gering Nebraska were contacted about a possible death of a child. Officers arrived at the home to find two year old Juliette Geurts obviously dead and her body clearly showed signs of trauma. The first officer at the scene stated that he could clearly see her abdomen was discolored and she had a cut on the left side of her head. An autopsy reveals that she had a lacerated liver, bleeds in her brain and her lungs had been bruised. Any one of those injuries could have caused her death.
Four years later no one had been charged in Juliette's death and the family felt as if the prosecutors were giving them the run around. They would claim that the case was still open, that they were still investigating, but nothing was happening. Finally after the third prosecutor with the case said to them that they did not see the case going anywhere the family took action.
At the time of Juliette's death she lived in a home with her twin sister, Jaelyn, their mother, Charyse, her boyfriend, Dustin Chauncey and an ex-boyfriend of their mother's, Brandon Townsend. Prosecutors completely believed that one of the three adults had inflicted the injuries to Juliette but the problem was they had no idea which one of the three. It seems that none of the three were willing to cooperate with the police so they could not determine what really went on in the home and who was responsible for her death.
Juliette's father, Casey, and most of his family now lived in Wisconsin and Casey had enlisted in the Army. It was said that Casey sent Charyse nearly $1,000 a month in child support and I tend to have to believe this since he was a member of the military and they are pretty diligent on that. But, it does seem that there was little contact with the children or their mother in some time.
While there were several articles about the case, much of the background information I was able to find came from a petition that was started by Casey's sister, Monica Hall. I do not generally use much information from something like that but I do want to relay some of the things that were claimed. First off I should point out that the petition was started to force the grand jury in Gering Nebraska to do an investigation into the case and at the very least do something that would force one of the three adults that were living in the home to talk.
According to the petition, when officers first responded to the home there were drugs inside the home but none of the adults were taken into custody for them. The petition went on to say that the crime scene was not taped off until nearly four or five days after Juliette had died. They also claim that none of the adults were questioned until then. One of the responding officers would report later that Charyse and Dustin Chauncey were both appeared too “upset to communicate” when he arrived. The petition also claims that it was several days before Juliette's twin sister, Jaelyn was removed from the home despite being bruised and traumatized.
Juliette had been taken to the local hospital emergency room during the night by Charyse and Chauncey. Charyse claimed that around two in the morning she had gone in to check on the girls and Juliette was having a seizure. Townsend would later say that both he and Charyse believed they needed to take her to the hospital but at first Chauncey disagreed. Eventually Charyse and Chauncey did take her to the hospital while Townsend stayed at the home with Jaelyn. The petition states that the emergency room report and interviews with the staff state that there were no head injuries present on Juliette at that time. After an examination and observation to see that she appeared to be acting normally despite a fever she was released and Charyse was told to simply watch her. The petition claims that Charyse stated at some point, at least to someone, that after returning home from the hospital and putting Juliette to bed she had taken a sleeping pill. If this is in fact true is seems highly suspicious for two reasons. For one, she had a sick child that she claimed had a seizure and had just returned from the hospital where they told her to keep an eye on her. Secondly, she reportedly was to be at work in just a few hours from the time she claimed to take the sleeping pill.
The petition claimed that less than a month prior to Juliette's death Charyse and Chauncey assaulted a man with a baseball bat. It stated that Chauncey would eventually serve time for that and that is backed by the records with the Department of Corrections. He would be convicted in 2009 for 2nd degree assault and receive a sentence of three years. He was released from prison in March of 2010 from that sentence. The petition makes the claim that had both Chauncey and Charyse been arrested for their role immediately or at least sooner (although I found no record that she was convicted in any way for the crime) that Juliette may have not been murdered. The other thing the petition pointed out about this was that the man that they allegedly assaulted would alter go on to kill another man. It stated it showed the type of people that Charyse associated with while having custody of her children.
It was said that two weeks prior to Juliette's death she had been taken to the emergency room for stitches in her head and that Charyse told different stories as to what had occurred. Again, it was showing that someone should have been made aware of what was going on in the home and had child protective services involved.
The petition actually worked and got enough signatures to force the grand jury to look at the situation. By the time they did however none of the main players still lived in Nebraska. Both Townsend and Chauncey were living in Colorado and Charyse was in Wisconsin, possibly back with Casey Geurts. In January 2013 the grand jury would indict Chauncey on charges of intentional child abuse resulting in death, manslaughter and providing false information to an officer. Charyse would be indicted on charges of accessory to a felony and false reporting. However, all charges against Charyse would later be dropped as well as all against Chauncey except the intentional child abuse charge. In Nebraska the statute of limitation on all of the other charges was three years and by the time the indictment came down it had been four and a half years since Juliette's death. The statute of limitations on child abuse is, or at least was, since hopefully that has changed, seven years. I fear without this petition no one would have ever faced charges. The grand jury also suggested and the courts would agree that a special prosecutor be brought into the case. The exact reason for this was a bit unclear but I suspect that it stemmed from the allegations that the police and prosecutors in the case had failed to do their jobs properly and the current prosecutor may have been hard pressed to find fault in a system he worked in, or with.
It was said that at the time of the indictment Chauncey was in jail in Colorado on drug charges. I found something rather interesting about that when I looked at the Colorado Department of Corrections. When the first officer arrived on the morning of Juliette's death he would say that Dustin Chauncey gave his name as “Roy.” It would later be said that he had told both Charyse and Brandon Townsend to use this name prior to the officer arriving because he had outstanding warrants for his arrest. Charyse at least complied it seems and that is at least partially where the “false informing” charges came from. Now, the interesting thing about that was that when I went to the Colorado Department of Corrections website and put in the name Chauncey I found a Roy C. Chauncey in their list. This Roy C. had been sent to prison in September of 2012 on a four year sentence, although it shows that he is currently on parole. The website did not specify what the charge was for his incarceration but I found it interesting that he was in jail in Colorado at the same time Dustin Chauncey was. To be honest, at first I thought it was possibly the same person and one of the states got the name wrong but examining further and looking at the available pictures I discovered that they were in fact two different people. Yet, I still find it very interesting that this was the name Dustin not only gave to officers but allegedly told others to use if officers asked his name.
The trial was quite interesting. First Charyse had still refused to cooperate. In 2012 the tabloid show Inside Edition had looked into the case and had spoken to Charyse, Townsend and Chauncey. Both Charyse and Townsend said they believed that Chauncey was responsible for Juliette's death while Chauncey denied it but quickly referred all questions to his lawyer. However, now faced with charges Charyse refused to testify against Chauncey, or really testify at all. The prosecution was forced to issue a subpoena and once on the stand Charyse refused to answer any questions. Her lawyers would later claim that they felt it was all in attempt to get her to commit perjury. The prosecutors allege they had provided her attorney, as well as the defense, all of the questions that they intended to ask and pointed out that while Charyse had told several different stories apparently, none had been done under oath which would allow a perjury charge. The judge obviously was not amused and he order her to jail on contempt of court charges. She would be released three days later at the end of the trial. Interestingly enough Casey Geurts would be the person to pick her up from the jail. She refused to comment to the media that were outside the jail asking questions.
For his part Brandon Townsend did testify. It is unclear if he had also possibly testified at the grand jury investigation. He was never indicted or faced any charges in the case, only suspicion. Townsend would testify that he and Charyse had briefly dated before she began dating Chauncey. There was some indication that Townsend and Chauncey had been friends prior to either of them dating Charyse. He stated he remained living in the home to help care for the girls. Townsend told the jury that on the night of July 10th he, Charyse, Chauncey and the girls had all gone to a local carnival. While there Juliette had complained of not feeling good. They had returned home somewhere between 11 and midnight (some say that there was a stop at a liquor store on the way home). Townsend would claim that once home he had put the girls to bed himself. He then told the story of Charyse checking the girls and Juliette having a seizure. He claimed that while Charyse and Chauncey were gone he had gone into the living room and “passed out” on the couch. He stated he woke up around 11 am the next morning and went into the girls' room to check on them. Apparently both girls still slept in cribs and according to Townsend Juliette's “bed had almost been crushed down to the ground …. almost as if something really heavy had been on the bed.” He said Juliette was blue and stiff and that he grabbed her and ran into the bedroom where Charyse and Chauncey were. He stated that as they were examining Juliette that Chauncey started raving on about how she was dead and he needed to leave. Townsend claims that he took Juliette's body back into the living room and was attempting to find a phone but could not. It was unclear where everyone's cell phones were at as they apparently had them. He then went to a neighbors house to have them call 911. Townsend said while he, Charyse and Chauncey were waiting for the police to arrive Chauncey began telling them that they were to tell the officers that his name was Roy.
The defense would cross examine Townsend arguing that he was the one who had killed Juliette and although they never called Jaelyn, who was now eight years old, to the stand they would allege that she had told both of her grandmothers that Townsend had been the one to murder Juliette. Keep in mind that both Juliette and Jaelyn were two years old at the time. First, it is unlikely that Jaelyn would have remembered making those statements or even remember the event. Secondly, there is no way of knowing that those statements were true. According to Townsend he had attempted to check and retrieve Juliette from her bed in a way in which Jaelyn would not see her sister. There is also the issue of the fact that the Geurts family made in the petition for the grand jury that Jaelyn was not removed from the home for several days. No one could possibly know if she was influenced to make this statement by someone else or she did not understand what she saw. In the same respect, maybe she did see what she said she saw, but at two years old there is no way she could have been found as a reliable witness.
There was one other witness that the prosecution put on the stand that allegedly had information. His name was Paul Cardwell. He had been an inmate with Chauncey at one point and would claim that he confessed to the crime. To be fair, the prosecution laid out Cardwell's crimes to the jury before he testified and stated that it was possibly he would be looked favorably by the courts for his testimony. For their part, the defense would call Cardwell a “professional con-man.” Cardwell would claim that Chauncey told him that he and Charyse were in the bedroom having sex after they had returned from the hospital and that Juliette came in not feeling good and wanting Charyse. He claimed that he got up and kicked her in the stomach. He then allegedly stated that while still naked he picked her up in the room to carry her to hers and once there she was still crying and would not be quiet so he punched her in the upper chest. Cardwell would then claim that Chauncey stated he went back to having sex and went to sleep.
Now, a few things stick out about Cardwell's testimony. First, the prosecution had taken Juliette's clothing and had it analyzed. They found two portions with DNA. One was called a “sperm fraction” while the other was called a “non sperm fraction.” The results were described as showing Chauncey to be a “major contributor” of the “sperm fraction” and a “contributor” of the “non sperm fraction.” If Chauncey truly did confess to Cardwell this explained how his sperm got onto Juliette's clothing, or was this a theory that the prosecution had and fed to Cardwell? Cardwell was in jail for things like forgery and committing scams. He was not in jail facing anything close to the type of charges that Chauncey was facing. It is common knowledge that inmates that commit crimes against children are on the lowest rung in the jails and prison and Chauncey had “confessed” to no one else, except maybe Charyse since she did not talk, that we know of, so why would he confess to a crime in jail that could have brought him more trouble? I am not saying that he did not and I do believe that if the sperm on Juliette's clothing was his, it is indeed damaging, I just question the legitimacy of Cardwell's claims. To add to this, it does not seem that anywhere in the alleged confession that there was mention of any hits to her head or even falling down and hitting her head when he kicked her in the stomach. The injuries to her head were significant.
The jury took one hour to deliberate before coming to their verdict. The prosecution, as well as Juliette's family, were concerned with the fast verdict and feared it was not in their favor. However, the jury found Chauncey guilty of intentional child abuse resulting in death. In April of 2015 Dustin Chauncey was sentenced to eighty years to life. In January of 2016 the conviction and sentence were affirmed.
In the petition that I read it stated that once Jaelyn was removed from her home she went to live with her father's parents in Wisconsin. Presumably they received custody while Casey Geurts was in the military and had served a few tours of duty. It is unclear if they retained custody after charges were dropped against Charyse or if Casey retained custody after his tour of duty (the last mention I saw of one was in 2011). I do know that in 2012 when the television show, Inside Edition interviewed Charyse she was living in Wisconsin near his family and that after Chauncey was convicted and Charyse was released from jail on her contempt of court charges it was Casey that picked her up but I cannot say if they resumed their relationship.
In my opinion we may never fully know what happened in that home on July 11, 2008. Do I think Dustin Chauncey was involved, yes. Do I think Charyse Geurts and Brandon Townsend were involved? I believe they both absolutely know more than they have said but I am unsure just how much that entails.
I am extremely disheartened that there were absolute, clear signs that this child was murdered in her home and investigators and prosecutors did not seem to be concerned enough to dig as deep as they could to get the answers. I can only hope that laws have changed in Nebraska so that when the right person does their job in the right manner that there is not the issue of statue of limitations running out to receive justice.