Kerrigan Rutherford was born Feb. 17, 2014. She would now be 8 years old, but the girl never lived to celebrate her seventh birthday.
Rutherford died July 2, 2020, of a prescription drug overdose in the family home in unincorporated Boulder Hill.
On Feb. 16, 2022, a Kendall County jury found Rutherford’s stepfather, James Davidson, 30, guilty of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the life and health of a child.
In April, Rutherford’s mother, Courtny Davidson, 34, is expected to be tried on the same charges.
At James Davidson’s trial, prosecutors from the Kendall County State’s Attorney’s Office showed jurors photographs of the home in the 100 block of Boulder Hill Pass, taken the day that Rutherford died.
Displayed on a large video screen, the pictures showed filthy, cluttered rooms with knives and other potential hazards strewn everywhere. Finally, the sequence of photographs showed the bedroom where Rutherford was found.
In graphic detail, the child was shown lying flat on her back, her arms extended over the edge of the bed, with plastic prescription drug bottles scattered on the floor below. A close-up of the girl’s face shows her nose had bled.
The question of how the 6-year-old girl reached such a sad end to her short life was explored at the trial.
A series of witnesses, including neighbors and Kendall County sheriff’s police, along with videos of both Davidsons being interviewed by sheriff’s deputies about a month after Rutherford’s death, were presented to jurors during the three-day trial.
It already was known that Rutherford died from an overdose of olanzapine, a medication used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adolescents and adults, and that Courtny Davidson is diagnosed as bipolar.
What emerged from the testimony and evidence was that both of the Davidsons had given their daughter the pills in order to get her to go to sleep the nights of July 1 and 2, 2020.
Based on testimony, it appeared the girl had ingested at least five 10 mg capsules of the drug, which is not intended for children.
On the last day of the trial, jurors were shown an Aug. 6, 2020, video of James Davidson’s interview with Kendall County Sheriff’s Detective Bryan Harl.
An emotional Davidson describes himself as an overworked husband and father trying to support the family while keeping their home life together, with his wife incapable of helping.
On the night in question, Davidson told the detective Rutherford woke up screaming in the middle of the night. Davidson said he put the child back to bed, returned to sleep himself and then left for work at 5 a.m. the next day.
Davidson then told Harl that he returned home at about 1:30 p.m., finding Rutherford face down in bed gurgling, with blood on her face.
“She may have gotten into something she wasn’t supposed to,” Davidson said in the video.
Harl asked Davidson if he had given the girl something to help her sleep the night before.
“I know I didn’t give her anything,” Davidson replied.
Harl tells Davidson that it would be understandable if he had given the girl something.
Davidson then said he went to the Walgreens store on Douglas Road and bought a bottle of the over-the-counter Benadryl brand-name medication.
He then crushed one and a half of the antihistamine tablets with a spoon and mixed them into a bowl of cottage cheese, Davidson told the detective.
Harl then told Davidson that only olanzapine was found in Rutherford’s system.
“I may have given her something, but I don’t know what it might have been,” Davidson said. As the conversation continued, Davidson told Harl, “I don’t know what I gave her.”
Davidson’s story continued to change. “I didn’t give her nothing,” he said, before claiming he gave the girl some NyQuil cold medicine.
The detective again calmly points out that there was only the olanzapine present in the girl’s system. He told Davidson that he needs to tell the truth.
“I don’t know what to do,” Davidson said. “I’m scared to say anything.”
Finally, Davidson told the deputy that from a bottle of prescription medication found on the floor, he crushed two pills with a spoon, mixed them into a small bowl of cottage cheese and gave it to the child.
Earlier in the trial, Courtny Davidson testified that she could not remember what happened that night. She testified under immunity, meaning prosecutors cannot use her testimony against her when she goes to trial.
In a video of the mother’s interview with investigators, Courtny said she gave her daughter three of the pills.
In her closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Meghan Jirasek painted James Davidson as an uncaring stepfather.
Jirasek said Rutherford was an innocent child “living in filth,” surrounded by hazards created by James Davidson’s neglect.
There was a bathtub filled with rancid water, Jirasek said, and there was “feces throughout the house,” creating an awful stench. A pair of scissors was found on the bed near the child’s dead body, she said.
“Kerri never stood a chance” in her home environment, Jirasek said, laying the blame at James Davidson’s feet.
“She was an inconvenience that he drugged until she was an inconvenience no more,” Jirasek told the jury.
As Jirasek continued, James Davidson sat with his face buried in his hands, weeping.
“He acted recklessly,” Jirasek said of Davidson. “His actions were likely to cause death and they did. There is no reasonable doubt that his action caused her death. Together with his wife, he killed Kerri.”
In his closing arguments, Kendall County Public Defender Clyde Guilamo told the jury that James Davidson was not responsible for Rutherford’s death.
Guilamo said that the level of olanzopine found in Rutherford’s system was inflated by a medical phenomenon known as post-mortem redistribution, in which drugs in a deceased person’s organs seep into the bloodstream.
The public defender also suggested that James Davidson was tricked into making his confession during the interview with the sheriff’s detective.
During the trial, Guilamo called pharmacologist James O’Donnell to the stand as an expert witness to testify on the effects of post-mortem redistribution.
Under cross-examination, First Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Shlifka asked O’Donnell pointed questions and attacked his credibility.
More than once, 23rd Circuit Chief Judge Robert Pilmer admonished O’Donnell for refusing to give direct responses to Shlifka’s questions, and to both men when their exchanges began to degenerate into shouting matches.
In his response to Guilamo’s closing arguments, Shlifka said Davidson was not tricked or coerced into a confession and commended Harl’s questioning of Davidson in the video.
“It’s a death investigation. It’s not a pillow fight,” Shlifka said. “This case screams out for justice.”
The final day of the trial started at 9 a.m. Feb. 16. Other than a one-hour break for lunch, the courtroom debate continued until about 5:45 p.m., when Pilmer gave the jurors their instructions and sent them to the jury room to deliberate.
Court was called back into session five times for the judge and attorneys to respond to the jury’s requests for additional documentation.
Finally, the 10 men and two women of the jury returned to the courtroom at about 10:40 p.m.
As Pilmer read the guilty verdicts, James Davidson reacted in seeming disbelief, before he eventually began sobbing.
Involuntary manslaughter is a Class 2 felony that carries up to 14 years in prison, while endangering the life or health of a child is a Class 3 felony that can carry up to 10 years.
Pilmer set an April 26 court date for post-trial motions, during which sentencing may occur.