Jema Donahue convicted on five charges in murder case
SUE STERLING Staff writer Nov 19, 2018 Updated Nov 19, 2018
WARRENSBURG — A jury in Johnson County Circuit Court rejected arguments that Jema Donahue, 32, acted in self-defense and found her guilty Friday, Nov. 16, of five felony charges stemming from the April 14, 2017, shooting death of her husband, Javon Donahue.
A nine-woman, three-man jury deliberated about four hours before returning guilty verdicts on charges of voluntary manslaughter, unlawful use of a weapon, felony murder, tampering with evidence and abandonment of a corpse. She faces a maximum of 83 years in prison on the charges.
Donahue was taken into custody to await sentencing and remains in the Johnson County jail in lieu of $250,000 bond.
Circuit Judge Williams Collins ordered a presentence investigation report and set sentencing for Jan. 14.
Prosecutor Rob Russell said the verdict provides justice for Javon Donahue’s family.
“I’m happy to give (Javon’s mother) some peace of mind that her son did not deserve what happened to him,” Russell said, “but I’m never happy at a time we’re dealing with a tragedy like this when someone has died.”
The prosecutor’s job, he said, “is to try to bring some justice to the victim’s family, and we’re happy to have done so in this case.”
According to testimony in the case, Jema Donahue shot her husband four times in her bedroom at the home she shared with her parents in rural Knob Noster.
Donahue said the couple had a tumultuous relationship and that Javon had assaulted her and choked her on several occasions prior to the shooting and had threatened to kill her and her family, prompting her to file an order of protection against him in court.
However, she said, she had let Javon stay at the house with her the night of April 12 because it was raining and he had no other place to stay. She said she also encountered him on Pine Street the night of April 13, when she said he took her vehicle, drove to where he was staying and then gave the vehicle back to her so she could drive it home to Knob Noster.
On April 14, she said, unknown to her, he entered the house through an unlocked bedroom window in the early morning hours. She said she encountered him in the family room about 6 or 6:30 a.m., and Javon dragged her downstairs and wanted them to get high on drugs together.
She said she did not know how Javon had gotten from Warrensburg to her house.
Donahue said she had given Javon some Xanax to make him sleep but did not see him take it. Instead, she said, he found a .22-caliber pistol in the bedroom. She asked him to give her the gun, she said, and he did, and she hid it in a wicker basket on top of the clothes dryer in the bathroom upstairs.
Javon came back up the stairs, she said, and used the bathroom, found the gun and started back downstairs.
When he reached the landing, Donahue said, Javon began screaming at her and said if she loved him, she would come downstairs.
Javon had the gun and attempted to fire it at her several times, she said, but the gun misfired. Javon became angry and hit her over the head with butt of the gun, which then fell to the ground, she said.
Donahue said she picked up the gun, realized it had not fired because the safety was on, and put the clip back in it, pointing it at Javon.
“He had just tried to kill me,” Donahue said. “I was afraid for my life.”
Donahue said Javon was backing up and she then pulled the trigger, shooting him in the shoulder.
“He went down a little bit,” she said, but then he lunged at her, and she fired again. She said she did not think the bullet hit him.
Javon grabbed her arms and they struggled for the gun, she said, and he spun her around and slammed her to the ground, landing on top of her. Javon laid his head next to hers and said they were going to die together, she said.
“Both of our hands were on the gun,” she said, and while they were struggling, she pulled the trigger, firing two shots, and Javon collapsed on her.
“I lay there for awhile,” Donahue said, “then I crawled out from underneath him and went outside and sat in the rain.”
She then called her mother, she said, and dialed 911, but did not stay on the line.
“I was in shock,” she said. “I hung up.”
When the dispatcher called back, her mother, who had arrived home, answered the phone and “obviously sent them away.” She said she expected officers to arrive, but they did not.
Donahue said she told her mother to get the tarp off the pool in the backyard, and she cleaned the body and wrapped it in the tarp and dragged it out to her mother’s truck, but could not get the body in it.
She then called a friend, Rick Armstrong, who came and helped load the body in the truck.
Donahue said she then left and went to Armstrong’s house, admitting she did not call authorities because “I figured it had gone too far,” and she feared retaliation against her family from some of Javon’s associates.
After spending the night at Armstrong’s, she said, she went home and found her mother had cleaned up the house and had “gone behind my back” and paid Armstrong to bury the body on a farm on Southwest 101 Road.
She said she went to the family’s place in Warsaw on Easter Sunday, where she disposed of the gun under a stump in a ravine.
After spending three days in Warsaw, she returned home on April 19, she said.
Sheriff’s Detective Aaron Brown testified that he was contacted on April 18 about a body being buried on property at 352 SW 101 Road but did not do anything until another call came in on April 21 with additional information.
Warrensburg Police Lt. Andrew Munsterman, who was assisting in a missing person’s investigation, said he received information about a body buried near Warrensburg.
He said a search warrant was obtained and Armstrong took him to where Javon was buried in a shallow grave with tree limbs and brush piled over it. The body was excavated and sent to Frontier Forensics in Kansas City, Kansas, for an autopsy.
On April 22, Javon was pronounced deceased, he said, and his death was ruled a homicide.
Munsterman said Donahue’s mother, Margaret Heffernan, then told him where the gun was hidden on their property in Warsaw, and he and a sheriff’s deputy retrieved it.
When police first interviewed her about a report Javon was missing, Donahue said she did not tell them she had shot him.
“I knew I was in too deep and it was too late,” she said.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Coleman said Donahue told him she did not know where Javon was and had last seen him on April 13.
In subsequent videotaped interviews, Donahue gave conflicting statements about how the shooting occurred.
Kansas City crime lab technicians processed the scene on April 22 and collected evidence and determined the shooting had taken place in Donahue’s bedroom and that the blood was from Javon Donahue.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Altaf Hossain testified that he performed the autopsy on Javon Donahue on April 23, 2017, and found a gunshot hole in his chin and the left side of his head, a contact bullet hole in the back of his shoulder, and a shot to the jaw that broke both sides of his jaw and lacerated his tongue.
Hossain said both the shot to the chin and to the back of the head would have been fatal within minutes, and that Javon would not have been standing up or lunging after either shot. He said he also could not have been speaking after the shot to his jaw. He said all the wounds were suffered while Javon was alive.
Hossain also testified that toxicology tests showed Javon did not have any Xanax in his system but did have a massive dose of methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death that could cause bizarre or aggressive behavior and hyperactivity or excitement.
Defense attorney John Picerno attempted to prove Donahue suffered from battered spouse syndrome and PTSD stemming from being raped at the age of 13, and forced by her mother to get an abortion, and that she had been in several other abusive relationships prior to becoming involved with Javon Donahue.
Defenses witnesses, included Donahue’s 11-year-old daughter, Carmella, who testified that Donahue had been assaulted on a number of occasions by Javon, and a former law enforcement officer who said he was following their car and saw Javon punch her in the head when they were driving back from a visit to his brother in prison.
The officer said he followed the vehicle and called police, who stopped Donahue’s vehicle and took Javon into custody. Donahue testified she had paid his bail and he was released.
Medical personnel testified they had treated Donahue for injuries she sustained at Javon’s hands during domestic violence incidents and that she had been diagnosed with ADHD, manic depression, PTSD and anxiety, and that she had been advised of steps she could take to get help.
Dr. Lisa Witcher, a licensed psychologist with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, said she performed court-ordered evaluations of Jema Donahue and had concluded she suffered from chronic PTSD and battered spouse syndrome.
In closing arguments, Russell said the facts that Jema Donahue shot Javon, wrapped up his body and dragged it from the house are not in dispute.
“She told you on the stand, ‘I have never said self-defense.’ She’s right, it’s not self-defense,” he said.
Donahue had no adequate cause to shoot Javon, he said. “There was no sudden passion. She was cold stone sober.”
He said Javon had his back to her when she fired the first shot, hitting him in the back of the shoulder.
Pointing to inconsistencies in her statements and testimony, Russell said Donahue “kept changing her story.”
He said Donahue was not afraid of Javon and “kept bringing him back in” in spite of having filed for an order of protection.
The way Donahue described the order of the shots “could not have happened,” he said. “Her story doesn’t match. … It’s not self-defense; it’s murder pure and simple.”
Picerno said a message Javon left on his phone said he had “just snuck into my wife’s parents’ house” the night of the shooting.
“That tells you everything you need to know about why it’s not murder,” he said. “You don’t intentionally murder someone you don’t know is going to be coming in the house at 4:23 a.m.”
He said the cycle of abuse “is what happens when someone like Jema is tortured their entire life. It had an impact on her.”
Medical records showed she had suffered abuse by Javon, he said, adding the battered spouse syndrome is in the law and Donahue was diagnosed by a court-appointed psychologist.
“I don’t know what you need for more evidence than her mental state,” he said, noting that orders of protection had never helped her in the past.
“We all know how these situations end,” Picerno said. “If not Javon now, it would be Jema some day.”
Russell said he is sorry for Donahue’s tragic past, adding, “That doesn’t give anybody a license to kill.”
She managed to get away from all the other abusers without killing them, he said, “but she killed Javon.”
If she was so afraid of him, he asked, “Why did she keep inviting him back?”
The question he said, is whether she was in imminent danger, adding, “How can she be if she’s the one holding the gun?”
Donahue “made up facts” when confronted with the evidence, he said. “She forgot what happened.”
He said the only reason she concealed the murder and hid the gun and cleaned up afterward was “because she knew she murdered that man.”