A man shot his girlfriend in the head at their Palm Springs apartment and staged the scene to look like she took her own life, a prosecutor alleged Monday, but the defendant’s attorney maintained that the woman was driven to suicide because she was suffering from a painful illness and was upset about her boyfriend’s alcoholism.
In her closing argument in the trial of James Beushausen, Assistant District Attorney Michelle Paradise told jurors that the 27-year-old victim displayed no suicidal tendencies and had told friends and family that she feared that her 35-year-old boyfriend might harm her.
The body of Jaylynn Amanda Keith was found on March 15, 2017, in the bathtub of the Belardo Road apartment the couple shared. She died from a single gunshot wound to the center of her forehead.
A 9mm pistol was found beneath her body, which Palm Springs investigators determined was inconsistent with the theory that Keith shot herself, based on the positioning of her body in the tub. Beushausen, who faces a single count of first-degree murder, allegedly told investigators that he’d moved her body and the gun after waking up and finding her in the bathroom.
Paradise alleged that Beushausen rendered Keith unconscious, placed her into the tub, then shot her while shielding himself from blood spatter behind a shower curtain.
He told investigators, as well as arriving emergency personnel and a 911 dispatcher, that Keith had shot herself while he was asleep, but also made several claims that he thought she slipped and hit her head, according to Paradise, who alleged that a head wound discovered by investigators occurred independently of the gunshot and hinted that Keith may have been assaulted in order to stage an apparent suicide.
The prosecutor questioned Beushausen’s statements regarding the morning of the shooting, particularly his account 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 coming from 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. She also described Beushausen as “a gun enthusiast” who regularly went shooting, and should have known what a gunshot sounds like.
Paradise told jurors that the couple’s relationship was deteriorating over Beushausen’s alcoholism, which led him to undergo rehab stints and triggered several arguments between the two.
Paradise quoted a Dec. 28, 2016, text from Keith to a friend, in which she wrote: “James has been drinking for the last four days 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 taken a pistol out of his gun safe, which scared her and caused her to take the safe keys and hide them, Paradise said.
Paradise vehemently denied that Keith was suicidal, and said that even Beushausen told police that Keith had never expressed any suicidal feelings.
Beushausen’s attorney, Greg Johnson, argued that a bladder syndrome that caused Keith substantial pain, and was another stressor on their relationship, pushed her to take her own life.
He said two internet searches were made on her cell phone referencing interstitial cystitis, one on March 12 on “IC depression,” and another on March 15, about 40 minutes prior to when Beushausen called 911, on “IC suicide rate.”
Johnson alleged that Keith made those searches, but Paradise told jurors that Beushausen used Keith’s phone to call 911 and was seen using her phone after investigators arrived at the apartment.
Paradise called the searches “a red herring” and “an excuse to plant a seed because this is supposed to be made up to look like suicide.” She said Keith’s doctor said her illness was “stabilized” and that medication was proving successful in controlling her pain.
Johnson countered that Keith was in more pain — both physically and emotionally — then she let on to loved ones.
He pointed to “very disturbing” text messages Keith sent to friends in the months preceding her death, which included “I just know living like this is poison. It’s killing me” and “I can’t live like this. It’s making me physically, mentally and emotionally sick.”
Johnson told jurors, “This woman was in pain. This woman was suffering. It’s obvious from the (text) messages.”
Johnson described her relationship with Beushausen as the final straw in a rough life that included losing both parents and her home, which burned down shortly following her father’s death.
“James Beushausen did not kill that girl,” he said. “I think the more complicated question would be `did he contribute to her death?’ I don’t know the answer to that.”
In the months following his girlfriend’s 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 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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