LIMA — Gabriel Salyers changed his story for a third time while talking with police investigators, admitting he struck 18-month-old Jaxxon Sullivan and “flicked” the boy’s penis, jurors in the Lima man’s murder trial heard Thursday morning.
That acknowledgement, which prosecutors termed a confession, came from Salyers near the end of a four-hour interview with Lima Police Department detectives on April 3, 2018, the day on which Sullivan was declared dead after being removed from life support in a Toledo hospital.
Defense Attorney John Fisher said the statements made to police by his client amounted to little more than a “false confession.”
Thursday marked the second day of testimony in the Allen County Common Pleas Court jury trial of Salyers, 32, who is charged with murder in the death of the son of his live-in girlfriend. Jaxxon Sullivan’s mother, Shelly Wireman, has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter in her son’s death.
Sullivan’s limp and seemingly lifeless body was found by first-responders at a home on Oak Street in Lima after Wireman placed a 911 emergency call seeking help. The call was placed on April 1, 2018, which was Easter Sunday. The infant was taken to Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center before being transported first to a Findlay hospital and then to St. Vincent’s hospital in Toledo. A medical expert testified Thursday that the infant likely was “already brain dead” by the time he reached the Toledo facility.
Dr. Randall Schlievert, director of the child abuse program and vice president of academic affairs at Mercy Health-Toledo, told jurors that Jaxxon Sullivan was “for all intents and purposes dead” after suffering horrific physical abuse shortly before first responders arrived at the Oak Street residence on April 1.
“It was clear to me than Jaxxon was abused,” Schlievert testified. “He suffered extensive head and brain trauma … as a result of a mixture of shaking and a violent impact to the head at least once and likely more that once. The minute this event happened he (Jaxxon) became a dying child. There was no accident here.”
Schlievert said it was his expert medical conclusion that abusive head trauma and fatal shaking were the factors that led to the child’s death.
“This is as clear as it gets,” he told jurors. “And this all happened immediately before the child became unresponsive. The injuries that led to the symptoms here were immediate.”
Salyers initially had told investigators that neither he nor the child’s mother had ever physically abused Jaxxon. During a second round of questioning, however, the Lima man said he had seen Wireman strike her son two days before Easter and that she had “flicked” his penis on Easter Sunday.
The Lima man told his questioners he lied initially in an attempt to protect Wireman. It was later in that same interview that he admitted striking the child himself.
Prosecutors are expected to call their final witness Friday morning before the defense presents its case. Court officials on Thursday seemed in agreement that the case will not be concluded by the end of today’s proceedings.