STANFORD — Jessica Noble’s tears began almost as soon she took the witness stand, when Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Dalton handed her a picture of her 4-year-old son, Nathaniel Knox, sitting on a riding lawn mower. They would continue throughout her testimony Wednesday morning.
Noble told jurors her often conflicted version of the events surrounding her son’s death from a blunt force blow that fractured his skull on July 25, 2009. She sparred with defense attorney Steve Romines and shot icy glares toward her former boyfriend, Jason Napier, who is on trial in Lincoln Circuit Court for Nathaniel’s murder.
Noble testified that she and Napier were using drugs and drinking that Saturday when she left Nathaniel — whom she called Nay Nay — and Napier alone at the trailer on Rice Lane they shared so she could run to Walmart to get some ice cream for her son. The boy was screaming and crying to go with her, but Noble left him.
“I’m not going to take him when he’s throwing such a fit. I¿can’t handle him when he’s like that,” Noble said under questioning from Romines.
As Nathaniel followed her out the door, he fell down a single step onto the landing of a deck and bounced right back up and went back inside, Noble told jurors Wednesday. When she returned home, her son was unresponsive, and she and Napier drove him to the hospital, she said.
That account of Nathaniel’s fall did not match the one Noble gave to police and medical personnel in the aftermath of his injuries. Former Lincoln County Deputy Sheriff Rob Oney and three nurses and an emergency room doctor at Fort Logan Hospital all testified that Noble told them Nathaniel had fallen down four stairs and hit his head on concrete at the bottom.
Noble maintained that version of the fall a year after the incident, when she signed a proffer drawn up by prosecutors and presented to Judge David Tapp as part of Noble’s deal in which she pleaded guilty to facilitation to commit second-degree manslaughter and agreed to testify against Napier in exchange for a 15-year prison sentence. A proffer is an offer presented for acceptance.
“You swore to Judge Tapp that this was true,” Romines told her.
Noble shot back, “He fell coming out the door. You can twist the truth however you want to, but I’m telling you the way it is.”
Romines responded, “I don’t want to twist anything. Let’s get your exact words.” He then handed Noble the proffer she had signed in August 2010 and asked her to read it aloud.
“I remember Nathaniel falling down the stairs as I was trying to leave,” Noble repeated.
Romines also brought out that, in the proffer, Noble maintains that Napier confessed that he had hurt her son and attempted suicide, something she failed to mention to police and social workers investigating her son’s death.
“You weren’t offered 15 years until August 2010, and then you snatched it up, didn’t you?” Romines said. “That statement when you got that 15 years, that is when you told the story of Jason’s confession for the first time.”
As he was finishing his cross examination, Romines honed in.
“Why take 15 years for going to Walmart? You pled guilty to killing your son,” he told Noble.
“I’m guilty of facilitation to manslaughter second,” she responded. “I’m guilty of that because I left him in the hands of a murderer, Jason Napier.”
Napier’s friend, Jason Sparks, testified he went to Napier’s trailer to buy pain pills that day and arrived there while Noble was gone. Napier answered the door carrying Nathaniel over his shoulder. The boy was naked, and Napier was only in his boxers. Both were dripping wet, Sparks said.
The boy was breathing but appeared lifeless. “His eyes were barely open. There was white
spittle in the corner of his mouth,” Sparks testified.