The mother of a young woman brutally stabbed to death in a Minneapolis apartment broke down from the witness stand Tuesday when prosecutors showed a photo of her oldest child whose murder went unsolved for nearly 30 years.
"That's my daughter," Betty Eakman said as she stared at the image of Jeanne "Jeanie" Childs. Eakman later ran out the courtroom in shock when an image of Childs' naked body from the June 1993 crime scene was shown to jurors.
Though the case went cold, a recently revived investigation led to first-degree murder charges against Jerry Westrom, an Isanti, Minn., husband and father, as Hennepin County prosecutors spent the first day of testimony laying out DNA evidence and bloody footprints they say belong to him.
Westrom, 56, who is not in custody, was accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth Ann, and a dozen other supporters in the courtroom Tuesday. Testimony is expected to carry into next week before the jury will begin deliberations.
The businessman and hockey dad was arrested in 2019 after investigators tested his discarded hot dog napkin from a hockey game for DNA that matched a hit from a genealogy website.
His attorney, Steve Meshbesher, is trying to convince the jury that Arthur Gray is the killer, as Gray's hair was found in Childs' left hand and he had a history of abusing her. The apartment unit was leased to Gray, and Childs allegedly used the unit for prostitution.
Gray, who is now deceased, was Childs' boyfriend and alleged pimp. Meshbesher moved Judge Juan Hoyos to allow the jury to consider five alternate perpetrators, including Gray, but Hoyos ruled that only Gray can be presented as a potential suspect.
Prosecutor Michael Radmer wrote in court documents that considering Gray as the killer "ignores direct admissible evidence to be offered by (witness) Maurice Hampton that he and Mr. Gray were in a different state at the time of the offense."
"The hair creates a connection to the location — not the crime," Radmer wrote. "It is of no surprise that a hair of Mr. Gray may end up on the hand of the victim while she struggled to fend off her attacker given Mr. Gray lived at the location."
Hampton, 63, testified Tuesday that he and Gray were on a motorcycle trip attending Harley-Davidson's 90th anniversary in Milwaukee. They later rode to Chicago and stayed at his mother's home in Indiana, where Hampton is from.
Hampton said he never met Childs or went to the apartment and maintained he and Gray went on the weekend bike trip, which is what they told police in interviews.
Radmer laid out the state's case in his opening statement, describing a grisly scene that spanned two rooms, with blood covering the walls in the bedroom and bathroom. The perpetrator fled but left behind two key pieces of evidence.
"A long investigation revealed it was Jerry Westrom who left behind his bloody footprint and DNA that day," Radmer said. "It was he who murdered Jeanie Childs."
Radmer said Westrom's DNA was found on the bed comforter, a towel and washcloth in the bathroom as well as a T-shirt on the bathroom sink that was riddled with Childs' blood. The analysis of four bloody footprints matched Westrom as well, he said.
"Forensic evidence shows us who did it," Radmer said as Westrom's wife shook her head in disagreement.
Meshbesher said in his opening statement that "memories fade, witnesses have died" and that there are "facts that cannot be proven." It's unknown how and when Westrom's DNA ended up in the apartment, which he argued was not a secured crime scene before police arrived.
Childs was found wedged between the bed and dresser by security guard Corey Busker. He said his partner and the apartment caretaker went to the unit that day on a report of water coming from the unit on the 21st floor of Horn Towers in south Minneapolis.
The shower was left running and the bedroom window was wide open with the screen missing, Busker said, adding that he never left the unit unattended to avoid contaminating the crime scene.
Retired Minneapolis police Sgt. Linda Riemenschneider also said in testimony that the unit was not left unattended. She said that when she responded to the apartment shortly before 7 p.m., the bed was disheveled and bloodstained, with bloody water all over the floor.
She said it looked like Childs was beaten and stabbed with a blunt object.
"The only thing she was wearing was dirty socks," she said.
Eakman previously told the Star Tribune that her daughter grew up in Isanti, dropped out of school in sixth grade and ran away often.
On the stand Tuesday, Eakman said that she still regularly saw her daughter. She was at the time of her death legally married to Al Childs, who had three kids from prior relationships, one of whom was with her in the courtroom, along with several other supporters.
Eakman said her daughter had a hysterectomy and was unable to have children herself, so she was "very happy she could have other children."
But she alluded to the dark path her daughter went down.
"I lost what was going on with her," she said.
Testimony resumes Wednesday.