Joshua Lelevier was sexually obsessed with his 13-year-old stepdaughter, secretly filming her in the bathroom a few weeks before he strangled her and dumped her 88-pound pajama-clad body in the desert a few miles from their home, Pima County prosecutors said Wednesday during closing arguments in Lelevier’s murder trial.
“The state is not required to prove motive, but it’s not like we don’t have any,” Deputy Pima County Attorney Jonathan Mosher told the jury. “Good grief.”
Lelevier’s trial began Nov. 7 in Pima County Superior Court. The 39-year-old is facing charges of first-degree murder, abandonment of a dead body, voyeurism, domestic-violence-related surreptitious photographing and sexual exploitation of a minor.
Mosher reminded the jury of testimony by a Tucson police detective who showed that Lelevier saved videos to his computer of the girl, Jayden Glomb, then watched, renamed and created still images from the videos in the following days.
Mosher also referred to a message Jayden sent to her friend two months before her death in 2017, in which Jayden said she’d caught Lelevier sliding his phone under the bathroom door and taking a photo of her while she was drying her hair. Jayden said she was going to tell her mother the next day, but never did.
“You see people, there’s motive here, and it’s eliminating the threat,” Mosher said. “It’s silencing Jayden.”
Lelevier, however, told the jury he filmed Jayden in the bathroom to catch her drinking and never expected to see her in compromising positions. Lelevier testified that on the night of her disappearance, he woke up at 1:30 a.m. to find her missing, with the blinds and sliding door partially open. Lelevier claimed that he searched the neighborhood in his car before waking up Jayden’s mother to tell her the girl was gone, but never went near the area her body was found, despite surveillance video that showed otherwise.
During jury instructions before closing arguments, Judge Michael Butler said jurors could consider the lesser charge of second-degree murder if the state didn’t meet its burden of proof for first-degree murder. First-degree murder can be committed two different ways, either through premeditation or “felony murder,” which involves an element of kidnapping. Arizona law defines kidnapping as knowingly restraining a person with the intent to cause injury.
Mosher told the jury during his closing argument that the state had clearly proven first-degree murder, pointing to a fake suicide note found on Jayden’s computer that had been created, then later deleted, at times when only Lelevier could have done so.
Premeditated murder requires a person make a decision to kill, reflect on that decision and follow through on it.
“A fake suicide note is about as good as it gets as far as demonstrating intent and reflection on a plan to kill,” Mosher told the jury. “It doesn’t have to be a good plan; he doesn’t have to decide to go with that plan.”
Ten days after Jayden’s body was found, Lelevier called police to report that he’d been attacked in his backyard, saying he was grabbed from behind and choked. Mosher said that the story and its timing were suspicious.
“Who needs there to be a mad strangler on the loose? That guy over there. You know, the real killer,” Mosher said, pointing to Lelevier. “There’s only one person on earth (at that time) besides the police and medical examiner who knows that Jayden was strangled, and that’s the killer.”
At the end of his statement, Mosher projected Jayden’s last school picture on a 6-foot-tall screen in the courtroom, the girl’s beaming face staring back at the jury.
“This is Jayden Glomb. Her killer lived with her and her mother, and they didn’t even see it,” Mosher said. “They couldn’t picture the killer, and the reason they couldn’t picture the killer is because they didn’t have the evidence. You now have the evidence.”
Another instruction provided to jurors was that they can’t base their verdict, or any related decisions, on sympathy, Lelevier’s lawyer, Walter Palser, said at the start of his closing argument.
“If this is simply a case about sympathy and who we feel bad for, the case is over in opening statements,” Palser said. “This is a horrific, sad, tragic case.”
“Look at all the evidence here and look at the lack of evidence,” Palser told the jury. “But one of the things you’re not supposed to do is look at one piece of the evidence and say, ‘that’s it, it’s over.’”
Palser said the state hadn’t provided any proof that Lelevier created or deleted the suicide note on Jayden’s computer.
Palser also argued about what the state painted as suspicious behavior by Lelevier in the days after Jayden’s death, including a shopping trip to Walmart to buy shoes and a hat.
“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve,” Palser said, referring to a question during jury selection, in which prospective jurors were asked if they believed there was only one appropriate way to grieve. “Now that we’re at the end of this, you can’t simply decide his way of grieving now somehow is wrong.”
Addressing Mosher’s theory that Lelevier was sexually obsessed with Jayden, Palser pointed out that the images and videos police found had been deleted from Lelevier’s computer.
“If you’re that sexually obsessed, why are you erasing them, why are you getting rid of them?” Palser asked the jury. “That’s another fact that’s not explained at all by the evidence.”
Palser explained to the jury that what the state called spy cameras actually fit the definition of “child monitoring devices,” which means that Lelevier’s actions weren’t criminal. In addition, the state failed to provide evidence that Lelevier was sexually stimulated, a key factor in convicting someone of sexually exploiting a minor, Palser said.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that this was the most intelligent way to catch a child drinking. I guarantee I could come up with a lot better ways than setting up cameras,” Palser said. “But you cannot convict somebody just because you find their methodology and what they did stupid.”
The state failed to prove any of the charges in the case, Palser went on to tell the jury, reminding them that there was no evidence that Jayden had been sexually assaulted or abused.
“So you have a case where there is zero evidence of sexual activity, but on the other hand, you’re supposed to believe that someone was sexually obsessed with someone else?” Palser asked the jury, before saying that the state’s case was a “house of cards” and the dots don’t connect. “The only appropriate verdict is not guilty on all counts.”
The jury will begin deliberations Thursday morning.