Case Update: Trial Date Postponed for Dad’s Girlfriend Accused of Beating Death of 4-Year-Old Tate Thurman

Tate Thurman
Tate Thurman.

The accused murderer of four-year-old Tate Thurman, his father’s girlfriend, 34-year-old Lesli Ann Jett, was seen yesterday in Tazewell County (Illinois) Circuit Court for a review hearing.

Lesli was charged with three counts of felony murder and one count of felony aggravated battery of a child under 13 days after Tate, the son of her live-in boyfriend, Jeremy Thurman, was rushed to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois on February 18 of this year. The little boy was in cardiac arrest and covered with grievous injuries, including head to toe bruises. Lesli was the only adult present at the time Tate became unresponsive; she told police that Tate slipped in a puddle of water on the floor and fell.

Tate Thurman
(Tazewell Chronicle)

After two days on a ventilator, Tate was declared brain dead. His official date of death is February 20, 2020, although his body remained on life support for a few more days so his organs could be harvested.

Peoria County Jamie Harwood took over 100 postmortem photos of Tate’s injuries and said, “I knew what was reported to us was not consistent to [Lesli’s story], but what was consistent was abuse.”

Tate’s autopsy revealed that he had undoubtedly suffered a massive amount of pain from his various injuries, which included tears to his intestines as a result of “high-velocity blunt force trauma,” a pancreatic hematoma causing internal bleeding, as well as “deep muscular bruising of the abdominal wall and back, an acute fracture of [the] right collarbone, and extensive contusions and abrasions to [his] scalp, face, neck, chest, [genital area], buttocks, upper back, shoulder, and limbs, including deep muscular bruising of the scalp, neck, [and] torso.” He likely slipped into a coma within 30 minutes of the injury that caused his internal bleeding; I can’t bear to imagine how long and painful those 30 minutes were.

Tate’s death was ruled a homicide, and Lesli Ann Jett was arrested without incident on February 26 for the murder of the little boy who called her “Weswi.”

Jessalyn Alora Thurman.

Tate’s family has been wrought with tragedy for years, as I mentioned in my initial blog post about him. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services became involved with the family in 2011, four years before Tate was born on December 3, 2015 and investigated the family several times before Tate’s death. The incident that spurred DCFS involvement was the death on October 13, 2011 of Tate’s older sister, Jessalyn Alora Thurman, who was a mere 12 days old when she was pronounced dead from positional asphyxia related to co-sleeping.

Over the next six years, Tate’s mother, Tara, was repeatedly investigated and lost guardianship several times of her surviving son, T.F., and two subsequent children, Tate and J.T.

Tate Thurman and Tara Foley
Tate and his mommy, Tara.

In December of 2017, Tara underwent surgery to correct a hernia, leaving her in severe pain. Two days later, on December 13, 2017, Tara died in her home of an accidental overdose of pain medication, leaving behind her boyfriend and father of her two younger children, Jeremy Thurman, and her three sons. She was 32.

After Tara’s death, Tate and J.T. were returned to Jeremy’s care. He and Lesli appear to have become a couple in early 2018 and moved in together shortly thereafter. Jeremy was reportedly at work in Urbana when Tate was fatally injured. When Tate died, J.T., as well as Lesli’s son, who turned three just days after Tate’s death, were placed into protective custody.

Lesli’s Facebook page was recently reactivated, although she is still housed in the Tazewell County Jail, and the last public post was made in February. Her page is full of reposts about tattoos, motherhood, and marijuana, as well as countless photos of her toddler son and even a few of J.T., Jeremy’s older son. I thought it was extremely telling that I found only a single photo featuring Tate, and that was a family photo taken in April of 2019.

Tate Thurman family photo
Left to right: JT, Tate, his father Jeremy, Lesli, and Lesli’s two-year-old son in April of 2019.

Lesli has apparently cycled through a few attorneys since her arrest. She requested a public defender on February 28 and was initially assigned public defender Sam Snyder, but he entered a motion to withdraw in June. Lesli also evidently retained an attorney named Bridget E. Bourke, but she is listed as “inactive” on Lesli’s case on the Tazewell County Circuit Court portal. Lesli is currently represented by retained attorney Hugh Toner.

Lesli and Jeremy in November of 2019.

At her court hearing on October 13, based on the limited information available through the court portal, it appears the prosecution entered a motion in limine regarding the admissibility of postmortem photos of Tate. The motion included attachments, and the court ordered those attachments sealed.

A motion in limine, in a nutshell, allows either party in a case to obtain a ruling on whether or not certain evidence will be admissible without having to expose the jury to that evidence.

During the same hearing, the date for Lesli’s jury trial, which had been scheduled to begin on Monday, October 19, was vacated and has yet to be rescheduled. Her next court date is a review hearing scheduled for November 13, 2020 at 9:15 AM, at which time I believe the judge will make a decision on the motion in limine.

Despite Tate’s story receiving a good deal of press when news of his death first broke, including being featured in the People True Crime newsletter, no news outlets appear to be following the progress of Lesli’s case through the court system, so I’ll stay on top of it as best I can.

Click here for my ongoing coverage of Tate’s case.

  • Lesli Ann Jett
  • Lesli Ann Jett and son
  • Jeremy Thurman and older son
  • Lesli Ann Jett choose your kids Facebook post

Sources: Tazewell County Circuit Court case search portal, Facebook

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