Nearly 30 years after a woman was stabbed to death in her Minneapolis apartment, the Isanti man accused in her death is expected to go to trial this week, where his attorney will try to persuade the jury that any of five other men could be the culprit.
Jeanne Ann "Jeanie" Childs, 35, was found in June 1993 with dozens of stab wounds in the south Minneapolis apartment police say she used for prostitution. Prosecutors will argue DNA evidence two decades later pointed to Jerry Westrom, who was arrested in February 2019 after investigators said they confirmed the DNA match using a hot dog napkin he discarded at a hockey game.
Westrom was charged with second-degree murder and posted $500,000 bail, later reduced to $250,000. In June 2020, a grand jury indicted him on a charge of first-degree premeditated murder.
He pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Steven Meshbesher, says authorities have the wrong man. Prosecutors argue advances in DNA testing prove they've finally cracked the case.
Jury selection began last week and was scheduled to continue Monday. Judge Juan Hoyos also imposed a gag order after Meshbesher was interviewed by a local TV news station. Opening statements are expected early this week.
Court records detail a key element of Westrom's defense: casting suspicion on five other people. They include Childs' pimp, who reportedly had abused her before. His hair was found in her left hand inside the bloody apartment, according to a motion recently filed by Meshbesher. He says no other hairs of this man were found elsewhere in the apartment, suggesting it directly connects him to the crime.
"It's plausible for a jury to believe that a victim of a violent murder may attempt to grab the perpetrator in self-defense resulting in their hair being found in the victim's hands," the motion reads.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found another man's bloodstains along with Childs' blood on the 21st floor, where her unit was, and the 18th floor, according to the motion. This man worked near the apartment and later admitted that he once entered the building. A witness described a man fitting his description who entered the apartment with Childs and later saw him running away.
Another suspect identified by the defense, James Lewis Carlton, was convicted of the 1994 murder of Jodi Dover, 26, who was also found naked and stabbed to death in her Minneapolis apartment. Carlton was interviewed by detectives and, according to a transcript, told them he already was doing life without parole so "if I did it, I'd tell you, okay?"
The defense also mentions a man who lived on the 20th floor was in and out of the apartment the day of the murder. The next day, he was arrested after threatening two residents on the 21st floor with "a 12-inch long hunting knife," according to the motion. The defense notes that he had been convicted of third-degree felony criminal sexual conduct in 1980.
A fifth suspect noted by defense allegedly had an appointment with Childs the afternoon of the murder.
There was no shortage of evidence inside Childs' apartment, but for decades detectives had an unknown DNA sample. It's become common in investigations to upload these samples to commercial genealogy websites to find a potential match. In this case, Westrom and his brother were identified as a likely match, so officers began to surveil him.
In January 2019, investigators tracked Westrom at a hockey game, ordering a hot dog from the concession stand and tossing his napkin in the trash. Westrom's attorneys tried to suppress this evidence, saying it was unlawfully obtained and a violation of his constitutional right to privacy.
Judge Martha Holton Dimick, who was presiding over the case at the time, ruled that the trash can was in a public place, and that the genealogy website also was available to the public, for a fee, with users who upload DNA voluntarily. Holton Dimick has since resigned from the bench to run for Hennepin County Attorney.
Westrom, in his first court appearance, denied being in Childs' apartment, recognizing her or having sex with any woman in 1993. He said didn't know why his DNA would have been in the apartment.
His father previously told the Star Tribune that his son was living and working in Minneapolis at the time of Childs' death. Six months after the murder, Westrom moved away. He and his wife raised two children in the Isanti area, where he owned several businesses and was a supporter of youth athletics.
In 2012, Westrom was arrested in a drunken driving incident in Brooklyn Center. Police also charged him with soliciting a prostitute. That charged was dropped, although he was convicted of his third DWI.
In 2015, Westrom was arrested at a St. Cloud hotel after responding to an online ad that had been placed by the Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Task Force. The next year, Westrom was convicted of soliciting a prostitute.
Childs grew up in Isanti but dropped out of school in sixth grade. Her mother previously told the Star Tribune that she ran away from home often and eventually moved to Minneapolis where she bounced around from place to place.
Police were called to the Charles Horn Towers on Pillsbury Avenue after a tenant saw water flowing from Childs' unit. The shower was running, her underwear was in the toilet and she was found with only her socks on, according to statements from responding officers. Large amounts of blood were found throughout the bedroom and bathroom and her body was at the foot of the bed, which was "torn apart" and soaked in blood. Large footprints were found in a pool of blood by the bedroom window.
Despite all the evidence collected in this case, it received little attention and leads went cold as the city grappled with a rapidly growing homicide rate leading up to the "Murderapolis" era in 1995. It took another 20 years before police revived the investigation.