A man convicted of shooting his girlfriend in the head at their Palm Springs apartment and staging the scene to look like she took her own life proclaimed his innocence Monday before being sentenced to 50 years to life in state prison.
James Beushausen, 35, was convicted in July of first-degree murder in the March 15, 2017, death of Jaylynn Amanda Keith, who was found with a single gunshot wound to the center of her forehead in the bathtub of the Belardo Road apartment the couple shared.
Assistant District Attorney Michelle Paradise told jurors that Beushausen rendered Keith unconscious, placed the 27-year-old victim into the tub, then shot her while shielding himself from blood spatter behind a shower curtain.
The defendant told investigators, responding emergency personnel and a 911 dispatcher that Keith had shot herself while he was asleep. Beushausen and his attorney, Greg Johnson, alleged that Beushausen’s alcoholism, in addition to a debilitating illness Keith was suffering from, pushed her suicide.
But according to Paradise, a head wound discovered by investigators occurred independently of the gunshot wound and hinted that Keith may have been assaulted in order to stage an apparent suicide.
At the defendant’s sentencing hearing, Keith’s family members conveyed how distraught they were over her death and said they they would strive to someday forgive him, while Beushausen, who joined his family members in addressing the court, decried what they felt was an unfair trial and conviction.
Keith’s mother, Lynn Lucille Hemphill, said, “James will be able to see his family, even if he is behind bars. As you know, we have no visitation rights in Heaven. I pray that someday I will be able to forgive James, but I will never, ever forget.”
Others were less merciful in their scorn for the defendant. A letter from Keith’s stepsister, Cindy Ruedi, was read to the court, in which she wrote, “I know what you did is with you every day. When you close your eyes at night, you see her face. You see what you did to her.”
One of Keith’s best friends, Alli Hopkins, referenced Keith’s consistent attempts to get Beushausen to quit drinking, which ultimately led her to hand him an ultimatum: stop drinking or she would leave.
Hopkins told Beushausen, “I guess she got her wish. You’re sober, right?”
Beushausen and his family alleged that forensic evidence that pointed to the gunshot being self-inflicted was minimized during the trial, and that Keith’s family members ignored clear signs of depression that led her to take her own life.
“All this conviction shows is that the system is broken,” Beushausen said.
Beushausen told the court that he felt at fault only for letting his alcoholism plague their relationship and drive him from understanding underlying issues Keith was suffering from.
“I will not beg. I will not ask for any leniency. I stand before all of you innocent of this crime,” he said. “I chose alcohol over everything that was important in my life: my family, my friends, and most importantly, over Jaylynn.”
During the trial, the prosecution questioned Beushausen’s statements regarding the morning of the shooting, particularly his account that he spent between 10 and 20 minutes searching for Keith after being roused from sleep by a “popping” sound that he believed might have been coming from their air conditioner. Paradise emphasized that the apartment was about 430 square feet and that the bathroom would have been easily visible from the couple’s bed. She also described Beushausen as “a gun enthusiast” who regularly went shooting and should have known what a gunshot sounds like.
The couple’s nearly five-year relationship deteriorated over Beushausen’s alcoholism, leading him to undergo rehab stints and triggering several arguments between the two.
Paradise quoted a Dec. 28, 2016, text from Keith to a friend, in which she wrote: “James has been drinking for the last four days. This might be the end for us. This tops it all.”
According to the prosecutor, Keith had come to the breaking point in their relationship and was going to leave if Beushausen wouldn’t stop drinking.
On March 14, the day prior to her death, Keith texted family members that Beushausen got “psycho on me” during an altercation in which he smashed his cell phone and screamed at her, Paradise said. Keith was going to tell him she was leaving him after he sobered up and said she was afraid things would get “physically bad” when she told him, according to the prosecutor.
In one text message, she relayed to a friend that Beushausen had taken a pistol out of his gun safe, which scared her and caused her to take the safe keys and hide them, Paradise said.
The prosecutor vehemently denied that Keith was suicidal and reported that even Beushausen told police that Keith had never expressed any suicidal feelings.
Beushausen’s attorney argued that a bladder syndrome was causing Keith substantial pain and was another stressor on their relationship, pushing her to take her own life.
He said two internet searches were made on her cell phone referencing interstitial cystitis, one on March 12 on “IC depression” and another on March 15 on “IC suicide rate.” about 40 minutes prior to when Beushausen called 911.
Paradise countered that Beushausen used Keith’s phone to call 911 and was seen using her phone after investigators arrived at the apartment. The prosecutor called the searches “a red herring” and “an excuse to plant a seed because this is supposed to be made up to look like suicide.” She said Keith’s doctor said her illness was “stabilized” and that medication was proving successful in controlling her pain.
But Johnson contended that Keith was in more pain — both physically and emotionally — then she let on to loved ones, and described her relationship with Beushausen as the final straw in a rough life that included losing her home, which burned down shortly following her father’s death.
In the months following his girlfriend’s death, Beushausen quit his job and moved back to his hometown of McAllen, Texas, where he was eventually arrested by Palm Springs investigators last Oct. 18 in the parking lot of a shopping center.