The Evergreen man charged with deliberate homicide in the death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son pleaded not guilty in Flathead County District Court on Thursday.
Brandon Lee Walter Newberry, 21, is accused of beating Forrest Groshelle in mid February. Authorities claim the assault led to a perienteritis, a laceration of the small intestine that slowly poisoned the boy. Groshelle died on Feb. 17.
A jury trial is scheduled for April 27.
On Thursday afternoon, dozens of friends and supporters of the family filed into the courtroom for Newberry’s arraignment. Many people in attendance were wearing blue ribbons to raise awareness about child abuse.
Security was noticeably stronger for the arraignment with a metal detector at the entrance of the Flathead County Justice Center and at least eight officers inside the courtroom. Shortly after 1:30 p.m., Newberry was led into the courtroom wearing a bulletproof vest underneath a baggy sweatshirt.
The Evergreen home where Groshelle died, and where Newberry was living, was vandalized recently and Newberry’s vehicle was heavily damaged and spray painted with, “Burn in Hell Brandon.” Police are investigating.
As Newberry entered his plea of not guilty on Thursday, family members of the young boy, including Groshelle’s grandfather Jeremy Juntunen, sobbed silently.
“I’m disgusted that he is too much of a wimp to admit what he did,” Juntunen said following the arraignment. “If (Newberry) really cared about my daughter or Forrest, he would have pleaded guilty.”
Newberry’s attorney Greg Rapkock declined to give any statements to the media after the hearing.
A district court judge approved a gag order preventing prosecutors and law enforcement from talking to the media about the case.
According to court documents, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office received a call about an unresponsive child on Feb. 17. During the call, Newberry could be heard screaming in the background, “it’s my fault, it’s my fault.”
When police arrived, they found bruising, scratching and abrasions on Groshelle’s body. An autopsy revealed that the child had been hit multiple times in the abdomen, causing perienteritis, a laceration of the small intestine.
In an interview with sheriff’s deputies, the mother, Takara Juntunen, revealed that Newberry had been watching Groshelle on a daily basis while she was at work. Juntunen also said that her son had been vomiting blood in the preceding days, suggesting that the assault may have occurred between Feb. 11 and 17, according to police. During an interview with police, Newberry admitted that he had been “roughhousing” with the child the previous day.
If convicted, Newberry could face up to 100 years in prison.