RICHMOND, Va. -- When Denise Howell unexpectedly died in January 2020, her brother Carnell Hope turned to his wife Tori Jackson Hope and told her they would take in Howell's 26-year-old son.
His name: Trey Hope.
Hope lives with autism and cerebral palsy. He is non-verbal and not toilet trained.
Trey and his mom lived just a couple of houses down from Carnell and Tori in Richmond's Southside.
Howell, a single mother, worked as a housekeeper for the Thalhimer family, and would sometimes bring Trey to work with her, according to Jackson Hope.
Jackson Hope told a jury she agreed and quit her job in February 2020 to care for Trey, the couple's 16-year-old daughter, and their two daughters under age five.
In March 2020, the world shut down when COVID hit.
Now, Jackson Hope had no day programs to send Trey, or daycare or school to send her girls to, which they were all used to attending.
Carnell worked 12-hour shifts.
Trey's cousin, JaWanda Hope, said she had no doubt it was hard for Jackson Hope to adjust to her new life.
"Tori is a nice person. She is. When I met her she was very helpful. She would do anything for anybody in the family," JaWanda said.
And yet, JaWanda continues to wrestle with that image of Jackson Hope, a trained Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and what happened on July 17, 2020 when Carnell told his wife to take Trey to the hospital.
Once there, trauma surgeon Dr. Stanley Kurek found Trey with no blood pressure and no heartbeat.
Dr. Kurek described Trey as looking "dead." He said Trey had 13 fractures, including skull and pelvis fractures, and multiple burns.
Kurek testified that Trey's injuries were usually seen in people involved in 60-mile-per-hour car crashes. He also said it would have taken at least two weeks with no nutrition whatsoever to get to Trey's level of malnutrition.
Hope lost 36 pounds between December and July.
"I am just concerned about what happened. Those burns and fractures. I still want to know," JaWanda said.
Trey's dentist, Dr. Brandon Allen, testified that on July 16, one day before his hospitalization, Trey came in for a fractured tooth.
Allen noted that Trey was "far less active than normal" and had a laceration on his lip and in other areas, but that was all he saw.
Investigators testified that they found dried blood on the walls of Trey's room and the hallways, wet blood on Trey's bedding, and holes in the walls.
Prosecutors showed video of Jackson Hope's interview with Anna Pavlenko, a family crimes unit investigator with the Richmond Police Department, after she was arrested where she expressed surprise to learn about Trey's broken bones and burns.
She suggested the fractures could have occurred before Trey came to live with the family.
Trey's doctor, Dr. Kausalyk Pendyal, testified she had seen Trey for routine visits everything six months since about 2015. She said he was "very friendly, always walked independently in front of his mom."
She made no mention of any injuries to Trey prior to his hospitalization.
In fact, she testified that a caretaker brought Trey into her office on June 6, 2020, for his routine appointment and a nurse practitioner checked him.
The nurse practitioner noted a skin infection from cuts and prescribed an antibiotic.
They also noted that he had lost a large amount of weight and scheduled a follow-up appointment for June 15 to monitor his weight, but Trey missed the appointment.
Dr. Pendyal said the nurse practitioner told the caretaker if Trey's weight continued to drop to bring him back to the office.
Jackson Hope also said the fractures may have happened when Trey fell off a trampoline at the house, an incident she did not witness, but said her daughter told her about.
Or, when Trey tripped on a vacuum cord in the hallways and fell into the wall.
She could not explain the burns, but she said she did notice he was losing weight.
"It's impossible to see him have these hard hits to him, and these fractures and it just comes from the inside of the house of him doing it to himself. It's just hard to believe," JaWanda said.
Jackson Hope's oldest daughter testified in her defense and confirmed that her father Carnell had died last year.
She said she had never seen her mom do anything violent toward Trey.
She testified that Trey had tripped over a vacuum cord and fallen into the wall, but on cross-examination, she told Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Kelli Burnett she hadn't seen the incident but her mom told her about it.
She said she didn't know how the holes in the wall in Trey's room happened, and she did not remember hearing anything.
Burnett then asked Cyla if she had told an investigator that her mom said she wanted to "kill [Trey's] BO (body odor) with hot water" and Cyla said she did not.
Burnett then tried to show the jury video of Cyla's interview with the detective, and defense attorney Vaughan Jones objected.
Judge Catherine Hammond agreed with the objection and the video was never shown.
Cyla was visibly shaken after the exchange.
In her own testimony, Jackson Hope described how it was a challenge to figure out what Trey would eat, but she would give him one to two Ensure supplement shakes per day.
She said she asked Trey's case manager at Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) if there was any training on how to care for Trey, but the case manager, Jessica Lawson, said no because of COVID and suggested she Google the topic.
When Lawson testified, she said she was required to do face-to-face visits with Trey every 90 days, but when COVID struck those visits became remote.
She said she spoke with Jackson Hope monthly over the phone and one time by Zoom in March 2020 when she said Jackson Hope showed her the back of Trey's head and it appeared he was sitting on the floor playing with toys.
Lawson said Jackson Hope never indicated to her that she was overwhelmed, that Trey was having trouble with eating, or that he had injured himself.
The only concern Jackson Hope ever raised, according to Lawson, was that Trey was not toilet trained.
Lawson said when she visited Trey in the hospital he was "unrecognizable."
Jackson Hope said Trey seemed depressed and would always look for his mother's car.
She said she only noticed "something" on Trey's blinds and suggested the blood in his room was from a nosebleed.
On cross-examination, she told Supervising Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for Richmond Allison Linscott, she "didn't pay attention to his room because of everything going on."
On July 17, she said Trey defecated on himself so she helped him into the shower, and when she returned from getting a fresh towel, she found him stooping in the shower.
She said she helped him stand up but he fell back into the tub.
Jackson-Hope told the jury "looking at him I did not see anything wrong with him," but when her husband came home he said Trey needed to go to the hospital.
"You're the adult in the house. You're responsible for each and every individual whether or not they are your kids, you're responsible, you're an adult, you know right from wrong," JaWanda said.
In closing arguments, Linscott, argued that Trey's lactic acid lab work showed Trey would have been lying somewhere for hours with no medical attention.
She suggested Jackson Hope beat and burned Trey and then had him lying on his bedding on the floor for hours.
Linscott said the surgeon testified that Trey's injuries were acute and showed no calcification, so they were fresh breaks.
She pointed out that Jackson Hope had nurse training yet "she didn't know this person needed to go to the hospital."
But defense attorney Vaughan Jones argued Carnell Hope was the only family member to step up to the plate and agree to take in Trey, and his wife didn't even think twice about it because she supported her husband and her family.
He said the real tragedy was that "Trey slipped through the cracks."
"We as a society see something like that and we have to point a finger at the only person left standing," Jones said. "Every story doesn't have a villain."
Jones argued Trey was clearly depressed.
"Is there any shock he is in decline? He lost his mother, his routine, his daycare program," Jones said.
He also pointed out that at the June doctor's visit the nurse practitioner did not say Trey did not need to be rushed to the hospital.
The jury found Jackson Hope guilty of neglecting Trey, but not abusing him, which leaves JaWanda with more questions than answers.
"I do believe it was hard for her to adjust to new life with Trey, and live in the household so I do agree with that, but I still just want answers. How did he get 13 fractures?" JaWanda asked.
Jackson Hope will be sentenced on March 24 and faces up to 10 years behind bars.
Trey Hope is being cared for in a group home where his health is improving.
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