A man fatally shot his girlfriend at their Palm Springs apartment, then claimed she committed suicide, a prosecutor said Thursday, while a defense attorney alleged that relationship issues stemming from his client’s alcoholism and a painful illness the victim suffered drove her to kill herself.
Testimony began Thursday in the trial of James Beushausen, 35, who is charged with murder in the March 15, 2017 death of Jaylynn Amanda Keith, 27, whose body was found in the bathtub of the Belardo Road apartment the couple shared.
Keith died from a single gunshot wound to the center of her forehead. The firearm, a 9mm pistol, was found beneath her body, which Palm Springs investigators alleged was inconsistent with the theory that Keith shot herself, based on the positioning of her body in the tub. Beushausen allegedly told investigators that he’d moved her body and the gun after waking up and finding her in the bathroom.
He also told investigators, as well as arriving emergency personnel and a 911 dispatcher that Keith had shot herself while he was asleep, but Assistant District Attorney Michelle Paradise told jurors Thursday that Keith had no history of psychiatric issues or suicidal thoughts.
“This young lady was not depressed,” Paradise said. “In fact, you’re going to hear from her best friends and family members that this young lady was strong, vibrant, independent, and one of the happiest people you could ever meet.”
However, their relationship became turbulent in the months prior to her death due to his excessive drinking, which Paradise relayed in text messages Keith sent to loved ones.
After Beushausen underwent a rehab stint, the couple moved into the Belardo Road apartment in October 2016, but his drinking did not stop, Paradise said.
“James has been drinking for the last four days,” Paradise quoted a Dec. 28, 2016, text from Keith to her friend. “This might be the end for us. This tops it all.”
According to Paradise, Keith had come to the breaking point in their nearly five-year relationship, and was going to leave if he couldn’t stop drinking.
On March 14, the day prior to her death, Keith texted family members that Beushausen got “psycho on me” during an altercation in which he smashed his cell phone and screamed at her, Paradise said. Keith was going to tell him she was leaving him after he sobered up, and said she was afraid things would get “physically bad” when she told him, according to the prosecutor.
In one text message, she relayed to a friend that Beushausen had a pistol out of his gun safe, which scared her and caused her to take the safe keys and hide them, Paradise said.
Beushausen’s attorney, Greg Johnson, said that despite the prosecution’s claims, some of Keith’s texts suggested suicidal thoughts, such as “I can’t live like this” and “I’m physically, mentally and emotionally sick.”
Keith also suffered from a bladder syndrome called interstitial cystitis, which Johnson said caused her substantial pain and was another stressor on their relationship. Two internet searches were found on her cell phone referencing the illness, one on March 12, “IC depression” and another on March 15, about 40 minutes prior to Beushausen calling 911, “IC suicide rate.”
Johnson alleged that Keith made those searches, though Paradise noted that Beushausen used Keith’s phone to call 911 and was seen using her phone after investigators arrived at the apartment.
Paradise also questioned Beushausen’s statements regarding the morning of the shooting, particularly his statement that he spent between 10 and 20 minutes searching for Keith after being roused from sleep by a “popping” sound, that he believed might have been their air conditioner. Paradise emphasized that the apartment was about 430 square feet and that the bathroom would have been easily visible from the couple’s bed.
Johnson acknowledged that the couple had issues, but said that Beushausen had never been violent with her and loved her deeply.
“This woman was his rock. This woman was everything to him,” Johnson told the jury.
The defense will also call on expert witnesses, including a blood spatter expert and a Department of Justice forensic expert, who will testify that the blood spatter and gunshot residue found on Keith’s hands are consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot, according to Johnson.
In the months following her death, Beushausen moved to McAllen, Texas, where he was eventually arrested by Palm Springs investigators on Oct. 18 in the parking lot of a shopping center.
Although police alleged that Beushausen had “abruptly quit his job” and left for Texas following Keith’s death, Beushausen’s family members and friends say that he did not leave California to flee, but rather to move back to his family’s hometown, where his siblings still lived.
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