Austin grad found guilty of murder

Published 9:26 am Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A former Austin man has been found guilty of murder after a distressing week-long trial in which he was tried for the death of a three-year-old girl in Great Falls, Mont.

Jerimie Hicks, 22, graduated from Austin High School in 2006 and currently lives in Montana.

Hicks was charged with deliberate homicide and tampering with physical evidence; both charges are felonies.

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After closing arguments Monday afternoon, the jury — comprised of five men and seven women — deliberated for just under three hours, finding Hicks guilty on both charges.

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Sentencing will take place in about six weeks. His could face 10 years in prison to life without parole on the homicide charge and up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for the tampering with evidence charge. The prosecution indicated they will try for life in prison without parole.

According to court documents, Hicks called 911 on Feb. 26 seeking medical help for three-year-old Kaelyn Bray, who was the daughter of his then-girlfriend, Jessica Bray.

Hicks said the child had fallen down the stairs and hit her head on the wall. When emergency personnel arrived at the scene, Bray was barely breathing and had suffered an apparent injury to the head. She also had dried blood coming from her nose, which indicated that Hicks had not called 911 immediately after the incident.

Upon arrival at the hospital, Bray was in critical condition and was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma and acute respiratory failure. She died three days later after being pronounced brain dead.

Hicks apparently told Bray’s mother that the girl had fallen down a flight of carpeted stairs and that the family puppy had knocked her down. He also explained a dent in the wall by saying he had thrown the puppy at the wall. However, Hicks had told 911 dispatchers that Bray had struck the wall during her fall.

Great Falls police searched the residence and determined that the girl’s head injury was not consistent with a fall down such a gradual staircase.

When police confronted Hicks about the inconsistencies in his story, he admitted that he had been frustrated with Bray because she was fussy, and he said he had shoved her into the wall.

Hicks said Bray did, indeed, fall down the stairs after he shoved her, but he said her injuries were caused by him pushing her.

Hicks, who is a senior airman, was wearing his military boots and pants at the time of the incident. In late August, DNA analysis conducted on those items identified Bray’s DNA in the form of human blood stains and light blonde hairs found on the boots.

In a telephone call dated May 26, Hicks had spoken to his mother saying he thought she had taken his uniform, which he had asked her to remove from the residence after the assault. The phone calls were considered evidence for the charge of tampering with evidence.