An Isanti businessman charged with the brutal stabbing of a woman in her south Minneapolis apartment 25 years ago made his first court appearance on murder charges Friday.
Hennepin County District Judge Martha Holton Dimick set Jerry Westrom's bail at $500,000, with certain conditions, after Westrom's lawyer argued that not all evidence in the case had been examined. Prosecutors had sought $750,000 bail.
Westrom, who was arrested Monday at his Waite Park office, was charged with second-degree murder in the 1993 slaying of 35-year-old Jeanne Ann "Jeanie" Childs. His next court date was set for March 13.
In arguing for a lower bail, defense attorney Steven Meshbesher pointed out that the father of three had lived in Minnesota his whole life and therefore was not a flight risk.
"What we've got is a very unsolved case and it was charged, in my opinion, prematurely," Meshbesher said.
Westrom, 52, said little during the hearing, his voice trembling as he spelled out his name to the court reporter. Several times, he paused to compose himself as his wife, daughter, son and 20 other supporters looked on from the gallery. Three members of Childs' family were also in the courtroom.
On Friday night, Westrom was released from custody after posting bail.
According to court documents, Childs' body, naked except for her socks, was found in the bedroom of her apartment at the Horn Towers, a public housing complex in an area of the city's south side known for prostitution, according to the warrant. She had been stabbed multiple times all over her body, the warrant said.
Blood covered the walls of her bedroom, living room and bathroom, which was flooding because the shower had been left turned on, investigators said. Finger, palm and foot prints were discovered at the scene.
Childs' live-in boyfriend was cleared as a suspect after it was determined that he had been out of the state at the time of her death.
With little to go on, the trail eventually cooled. The case was reopened in 2015 by a Minneapolis homicide detective and an FBI special agent, who decided to take another look at the case thanks to advances in DNA testing. Samples from the scene were sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and a private DNA company and later run through an online genealogy website, which turned up two possible suspects, one of them Westrom. They used the internet to determine where he would be in public places and surreptitiously trailed him.
Investigators obtained a sample of his DNA late last month after following him to a hockey game in Wisconsin where he was watching his daughter play, then recovering a napkin he had discarded.
A partial DNA match was found with genetic material discovered at the scene — from a blue towel in the bathroom and from Childs' couch — but investigators have so far been unable to "compare" the napkin with blood found in other parts of the bathroom.