A man was convicted Tuesday of shooting his girlfriend in the head at their Palm Springs apartment and staging the scene to look like she took her own life.
Jurors deliberated about two hours before finding 35-year-old James Beushausen guilty of murder, rejecting the defense’s account that she was driven to suicide because she was suffering from a painful illness and was upset about her boyfriend’s alcoholism.
In her closing argument on Monday, Assistant District Attorney Michelle Paradise told jurors that the 27-year-old victim, Jaylynn Amanda Keith, had displayed no suicidal tendencies and had told friends and family that she feared that her boyfriend might harm her.
Keith’s body 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 told investigators that he’d moved her body and the gun after waking up and finding her in the bathroom.
Paradise told jurors that Beushausen rendered Keith unconscious, placed her into the tub, then shot her while shielding himself from blood spatter behind a shower curtain.
The defendant 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 said 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.”
Paradise countered that Beushausen used Keith’s phone to call 911 and was seen using her phone after investigators arrived at the apartment. The prosecutor 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 contended that Keith was in more pain — both physically and emotionally — then she let on to loved ones, and 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.
In the months following his girlfriend’s death, Beushausen quit his job and moved back to his hometown of McAllen, Texas, where he was eventually arrested by Palm Springs investigators on Oct. 18 in the parking lot of a shopping center.