“He was having seizures,” Jestice told the next calltaker. “We’re concerned. He’s not really breathing well.”
In the background, Joaquin Rams can be heard to yell, “He’s shaking and he’s not breathing.” Jestice speaks again to the calltaker, “The shaking seems to have stopped.” Joaquin Rams shouts, “Prince!” And Jestice adds, “He doesn’t seem to be responsive.”
Paramedics arrived in minutes, but Prince McLeod Rams still wasn’t breathing, and wasn’t revived for another half-hour. He died the next day, and after the medical examiner ruled that he was drowned, Joaquin Rams was charged with murder. The defense opened their case Monday on the fourth day of trial at the Prince William courthouse in Manassas, and Jestice’s testimony was crucial: He is the second person to testify that he did not see Rams drowning his son. It is not known if Rams will testify, but he has previously proclaimed his innocence, and noted that Prince had suffered from a series of febrile seizures in the weeks prior to his collapse.
Last week, prosecutors proved that Rams had taken out three life insurance policies totaling $524,000 on Prince shortly after he was born in July 2011, seemingly giving him a powerful motive for murder. On Monday, the salesman who sold the largest of those policies, a $444,000 Mass Mutual whole life policy, testified that Rams initially sought a policy only on himself, and that the salesman — working strictly on commission — convinced Rams to buy policies on his two children as a way to save money for college.
The defense has suggested that Rams only intended to buy a $1 million policy on himself as leverage in his custody battle for Prince with the boy’s mother, Hera McLeod, in Montgomery County, Md., and had no intent to buy policies on his children. Others have noted that the idea to kill Prince for the insurance money could have occurred to Rams after he bought the policy on the boy — he previously received $162,000 from the death of his mother in 2008 — and there has been no explanation for why he bought two more policies for $80,000 on the newborn in 2011.
In his opening statement, Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney James Willett cited the three insurance policies as “the perfect storm” to enable Rams to slay his son and extricate himself from deep debt. He also noted a curious lack of urgency on the part of Jestice after Rams called for help. Joaquin Rams’s teenaged son, Joaquin Rams Jr., testified last week that his father suddenly swooped into his room to pick up Prince, who didn’t seem to be in distress, rushed him to the bathroom and told Joaquin Jr. , “Get Mr. Roger.”
The teen, who was 13 in 2011, testified, “I just went down and said my father needs you or something.” How did Jestice respond? he was asked. “Took his time,” Joaquin Jr. said. “We went back up the stairs. That’s when my father said call 911.” He acknowledged on cross-examination that Jestice reached the bathroom first.
Jestice said Monday that he didn’t remember the teen coming down to get him, that he only heard someone yell for him to call 911, and that he thought it was Rams. He said as he was heading up the stairs, he heard the water in the bathtub come on. It took him less than 30 seconds to reach the bathroom, he said.
But Willett noted that Jestice was already telling the calltaker that Prince was having a seizure. “Makes me wonder how you knew to tell 911 that the baby was seizing,” Willett said. Jestice replied, “I basically was telling them the baby had seizures in the past, that’s what I was informing them.”
“When you said the baby was seizing,” Willett continued, “you meant the baby was seizing at that time?”
“I believe so,” Jestice said.
“But you didn’t know that first-hand?”
“No sir,” Jestice answered.
Before the 911 tape was played, Jestice left the witness stand and got down on his knees in the well of the courtroom to demonstrate the scene for Circuit Judge Randy I. Bellows, who is hearing the case without a jury. He described finding Rams cradling Prince in one arm, the toddler’s head away from the faucet near the end of the tub and his feet closest to the faucet, “splashing water on to his torso.” He said water was not collecting in the tub. Joaquin Rams Jr. described the scene the same way in his testimony, with Prince’s head away from the running water.
As the 911 tape was played, the calltaker can be heard giving instructions to Jestice, telling him not to give the boy mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and to keep him on his side.
“I’ve got him on his side,” Rams can be heard saying. “I’m holding him. He’s not moving at all!”
“Tell him to calm down,” the calltaker tells Jestice.
The calltaker then instructs Jestice in how to do chest compressions on the boy, which he said he did with two fingers. Paramedics arrived, and one testified that she found Prince naked, cold and wet to the touch, as well as unresponsive. Rams rode in the ambulance with his son to Prince William Hospital, Jestice said, while Manassas City police began arriving at his home. He said Rams rode with a Manassas detective to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where Prince was soon flown, while police searched Jestice’s house and began seizing items with Jestice’s consent. Court records show Rams gave a series of statements to police about the incident which were largely consistent. No police detectives testified in the prosecution’s case in chief.
Prosecutors have said that Rams did not appear to have any means of financial support, and Jestice said Rams and his teenaged son moved in with him in July 2011 because Rams was having money problems. Jestice said Rams was creating a website for the online gaming community, but he acknowledged he did not know if Rams had any income from that. Jestice said he considered Rams and Joaquin Jr. to be like family members, and that he paid $20,000 toward Rams’s defense shortly after his arrest in 2013. He attended many of the pretrial hearings for Rams over the next four years.
Also Monday, salesman John Donovan testified. The defense previously asked that insurance evidence against Rams be struck because they feared that Donovan had been intimidated by a visit from two Prince William prosecutors in 2015, and had fought a defense subpoena last December. But Donovan, sometimes with the help of his prior testimony in a civil case and to the Prince William grand jury, recalled a series of eight to 10 conversations with Rams in 2011 where he suggested buying additional insurance policies on his children as a means to save. He said he was paid 20 percent of customers’ monthly premiums. Rams paid $306 per month on his own policy, $150 per month on Prince’s policy and $100 per month on Joaquin Jr.’s policy.
Rams apparently inquired about a policy online, and Donovan got the lead at his office in New Jersey and followed up. He filled out the policy applications for Mass Mutual with Rams over the phone, and said he created an error: He typed in that Prince’s mother was dead. In fact, Joaquin Jr.’s mother, Shawn Mason, was dead, and Donovan wrongly entered that information on both policies. He said Rams told him Mason had been shot to death.
But Donovan also said Rams told him that Prince lived with him in Manassas, that he had $200,000 in annual income and a net worth of $2 million, all apparently untrue. When he sent the application to Rams to check before submission, Rams did not correct anything, Donovan said. Rams is also charged with attempting to commit fraud by false pretenses for the Mass Mutual policy.