The mother of a 27-year-old Elkhart man accused of intoxication manslaughter took the stand for almost an hour Tuesday afternoon, becoming angry with the state's line of questioning on multiple occasions and ultimately being warned by the court.

Casey Jeffus, 27, of Elkhart is being tried on the charge of intoxication manslaughter in the death of his 2-year-old son, Conner Jeffus, who died on Sept. 27, 2005 – 11 days after being critically injured in an automobile accident on U.S. 287 South between Palestine and Elkhart.

On Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Kevin January testified Casey Jeffus' blood alcohol content was recorded at .089 shortly after the accident, just slightly higher than the state's legal limit of .08.

The accident occurred when Casey Jeffus, who was traveling northbound on U.S. 287 in a 2004 Nissan Altima, left the roadway to the east, overcorrected, crossed the center stripe and ultimately struck a southbound International truck, according to January.

Conner Jeffus, who was a passenger in his father's vehicle, died 1 1/2 weeks later at Children's Medical Center in Dallas. Casey Jeffus also sustained serious injuries, spending 10 days in a Tyler hospital before being released.

On Monday morning, Casey Jeffus pled guilty to the intoxication manslaughter charge, allowing the trial to move to the punishment phase following the seating of a six-man, six-woman jury.

Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by two-to-20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

If the jury finds Casey Jeffus has not previously been convicted of a felony, it could elect to probate his sentence if it is 10 years or less.

After the state rested its case shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, defense attorney Mark Cargill called three witnesses on behalf of his client before the trial was recessed until 9 a.m. today.

Those witnesses included the defendant's mother, Melinda Shaw, and grandmother, Sandra Coleman.

Both women testified that they believed Casey Jeffus began having substance abuse problems during his senior year in high school. Three stays – none longer than 30 days – at two different rehabilitation facilities did little to help their loved one beat his addictions, both also testified.

Shaw and Coleman testified that they felt Casey Jeffus needed to be treated in a long-term rehabilitation facility to get proper care. His mother testified her son had been rejected from such facilities in the past – sometimes due to finances and others because he did not qualify.

During cross examination by Anderson County assistant district attorney Allyson Mitchell, Shaw raised her voice in anger on at least two occasions – the second time taking exception to the wording of the prosecutor's question inferring that Casey Jeffus killed his son.

"He did not kill his son," Shaw responded in a loud, beligerent voice.

Following the witness' outburst, 349th State District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher warned Shaw that she would conduct a hearing to determine whether to send her to jail if she responded in such a fashion again.

During her cross examination of the defendant's mother, Mitchell went over each of the 21 times that the state alleges Casey Jeffus has been arrested during the past 10 years, mostly on DWI, possession of marijuana and public intoxication charges.

Shaw testified she knew about some of her son's arrests, but seemed unaware of others.

"So you really don't know your son that well?" Mitchell asked.

"Yes, I do," said Shaw, clearly agitated by the question. "Don't talk to me that way."

Although providing few specifics, Shaw testified she had "begged doctors" in the past to place her son in long-term rehabilitation. She also seemed to at least partially blame the system for some of her son's troubles, saying, "The state could have helped a long time ago."

"Should Casey be blamed for his actions?" Mitchell asked.

"Not in Conner's death, no," Shaw answered.

"Do you feel he (Casey) should be held accountable for the death of your grandson?" Mitchell later asked the witness.

"...No m'aam," Shaw responded.

Shaw said Casey Jeffus may have consumed alcohol prior to the fatal accident, but that he "was not intoxicated."

On multiple occasions throughout her testimony, Shaw said her son was an "addict" and had a disease – at one point comparing his addiction to cancer.

Earlier, Shaw had described Casey Jeffus as a "just a perfect child" growing up who excelled in athletics and was inducted into the National Honor Society in high school before becoming addicted to prescription drugs during his senior year.

Shaw said Casey Jeffus was prescribed the popular painkiller, Hydrocodone, and the muscle relaxer, Soma, after sustaining a back injury in a high school football game. Her son subsequently became "hooked" on those medications, she further testified.

As a teenager, Casey Jeffus spent 30 days at a drug rehabilitation facility in Canton and was later admitted into a similar treatment facility in Lufkin on two separate occasions, according to Shaw's testimony.

Shaw also described Casey Jeffus as a "good dad," saying he often took his toddler son four-wheeling and fishing.

"He worshipped his son and Conner worshipped him too," Shaw testified.

The defense was expected to rest its case sometime today, with the jury possibly beginning their deliberations as early as this afternoon.

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Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at pstone@palestineherald.com

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