Jessica Trefethen listens as Assistant Attorney General John Risler addresses jurors in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast in 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A Stockton Springs woman who was sentenced to 47 years in prison for the murder of her 3-year-old son is asking Maine’s highest court for a new trial.

Jessica Trefethen, 37, was found guilty in October 2022 of depraved indifference murder in the death of Maddox Williams, who died on Father’s Day on June 20, 2021, after hospital staff tried for an hour to resuscitate him. A medical examiner later said he died of battered child syndrome.

Maddox Williams Photo from the #justiceformaddox GoFundMe page

Her appellate attorney, Rory McNamara, argued before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Bangor on Wednesday that Trefethen’s conviction should be overturned because the state didn’t have direct evidence that she caused Maddox’s injures and the court improperly allowed testimony that she had previously “thrown” Maddox to the floor.

Trefethen, who also goes by the name Jessica Williams, is being held at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. There is no deadline for when justices may rule on her appeal. 

Prosecutors have argued that Trefethen, who had abused Maddox in the past, stomped on the boy before he died or harmed him with some other form of significant force.

McNamara said Wednesday his client told police in 2021 that she was in her trailer when Maddox came in from playing outside to complain about a stomach ache. He had been surrounded by a number of things that could have led to his death, her trial attorneys argued last year – a trampoline without a barrier, large rocks in the ground, a dog, a gas-powered four-wheeler and Trefethen’s boyfriend, Jason Trefethen, who lived in a different trailer and was usually outside with Maddox and their other children.


The prosecutors’ case focused heavily on past instances of abuse and the three days Trefethen spent hiding from police after Maddox died. Both violated court rules for evidence, McNamara argued. Prosecutors are limited in how they can present “prior bad acts” to juries, he said, and Trefethen shouldn’t be punished for invoking her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination by speaking with police.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber defended the verdict Wednesday.

How Trefethen treated Williams in the months before his death showed motive, Macomber said. And she didn’t merely avoid police – she instructed her mother, Sherry Johnson, to lie to officers about her whereabouts. Police found Trefethen at her mother’s home three days after Maddox died.

Johnson eventually pleaded guilty to a class B charge of hindering apprehension.

Supreme court Justice Andrew Mead seemed to disagree with McNamara. He said there are exceptions when prior events can be used to offer important context on the relationship between two parties.

“She was verbally abusive to him, rejecting him as resembling her former husband, and in one instance, actually throwing him out the door of the bathroom,” said Mead. “All that stuff tells us that the relationship between these parties is not a warm and cuddly relationship. On the contrary, it was hostile.”



The attorneys spent a large part of Wednesday’s hearing debating whether Trefethen fled from police after Maddox’s death, or merely chose not to speak with them.

Rory McNamara, center, addresses Supreme Judicial Court Justice Wayne Douglas during a hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court on Nov. 2. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

McNamara argued she was clearly exercising her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination at the time. She told her mom as they were leaving the hospital that she wasn’t ready to talk with anyone. She texted friends she was avoiding police.

Prosecutors used that as evidence of her guilt – and that violated her due process rights to a fair trial, McNamara argued. In a brief to the court, he asked the justices to consider whether the case might even discourage others from using their right to avoid self-incrimination.

“What effect did the stream of inadmissible evidence and unconstitutional commentary have on our citizenry’s conception of the right to remain silent?” he said.

But Trefethen never actually told police she didn’t want to talk to them, Macomber said.


“She fled,” Macomber said. “From the scene, from the hospital, within minutes of her child being pronounced dead: she fled the scene.”

McNamara took issue with calling it “fleeing.” From Trefethen’s view, he argued, she wasn’t leaving a crime, she was trying to get away from the traumatic death of her son.

Mead and other justices pushed back on this.

“She says to her mom, ‘Take me out of here, tell them you dropped me off down at the landing, but take me to your home and hide me,” Mead said. “That’s not fleeing?”


Maddox’s paternal grandmother, Victoria Vose, said Tuesday that she was planning to listen to the oral arguments.


Vose, who helped raise Maddox when he was living with his father, Andrew Williams, has become an advocate for Maddox and other children who have died in homes where the Department of Health and Human Services has been involved.

Victoria Vose, grandmother of Maddox Williams, talks to reporters outside Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast in October 2022, after a jury found Jessica Trefethen guilty of depraved indifference murder in the 3-year-old’s death in 2021. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maddox’s death was one of four homicides in 2021 in homes where DHHS had previously investigated allegations of abuse or neglect.

She said DHHS ignored several red flags when they sent Maddox to live with Trefethen, her boyfriend and their other children, including reports of domestic violence between the Trefethens.

Vose said she believes strongly that the jury reached the right decision and that they should have been allowed to hear about other incidents between Jessica Trefethen and Maddox before his death.

“It wasn’t just a one time,” Vose said. “She abused him over and over again. Physically and verbally. Mentally.”

The verdict last fall only offered Vose and her family partial closure, she said. She continues to advocate for reform within DHHS and how it handles child abuse and neglect investigations.

“They just don’t say ‘Yes, we screwed up.’ You know?” Vose said of DHHS. “‘What do you suggest we do, to help the situation?’ They think they’re doing all that they can. That’s what it seems like.”

A DHHS spokesperson said Wednesday that Maddox’s death was tragic and the agency is working with the Legislature “to work toward system, staffing and training improvements.” They’re also working on a “Child Safety and Family Wellbeing Plan” to “look upstream to those early moments in a family’s history” when abuse might be preventable.

“We continue to ask ourselves what more could be done to prevent such tragedies,” spokesperson Jackie Farwell wrote in an email.

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