The Isanti man charged in a 1993 cold case murder that recently resurfaced due to DNA evidence and a genealogy website successfully fought to lower his bail Wednesday.
Jerry Westrom, 52, has been out on $500,000 bail since mid-February, but was granted a new bail of $250,000.
Westrom’s attorney, Steven Meshbesher, argued for $150,000 or $75,000 with conditions, telling the court that his client was fired from his job after his first court appearance in February. Westrom also used his farmland as collateral in order to hire former Minneapolis police officer Mike Sauro to work as a private investigator on his case.
“He doesn’t have much more money,” Meshbesher said, adding that his client plans to “unequivocally” declare his innocence in the killing of 35-year-old Jeanne Ann “Jeanie” Childs.
Westrom has not officially entered a plea of any kind since being charged in Hennepin County District Court on Feb. 14 with one count second-degree murder with intent.
Authorities allege that Westrom, who was 27 at the time, stabbed Childs several times in a Minneapolis apartment in the 3100 block of Pillsbury Avenue that she used for prostitution.
Minneapolis police revived the case in 2015. The FBI ran a DNA sample through a genealogy website last year.
Authorities followed Westrom at a hockey game in January, covertly collected a napkin he had used and traced it back to DNA from the scene.
Meshbesher pushed back on the DNA evidence at Wednesday’s hearing, noting that the criminal complaint said a mixture of “two or more” person’s DNA was found on multiple pieces of evidence.
“It could be three, four or five” people, he said.
Meshbesher argued that Westrom was not a flight risk, had a financial investment in the case and had deep social and familial roots in his community. His wife, children and about a dozen supporters attended his hearing.
“He has never committed a violent crime in his whole life,” Meshbesher said.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Thad Tudor told the court that there were no other suspects in the case, and that the “single-source” DNA evidence found in Childs’ apartment belonged to Westrom or a paternal relative due to evidence traced via the male Y chromosome.
“Whoever had sex with her, and that’s probably a lot of men, isn’t necessarily the person who committed the crime of murder,” Meshbesher said.
Meshbesher implied that Childs’ prostitution history could play a key role in the defense’s case.
“I’m not going to condemn or consider that she had multiple partners…,” Hennepin County District Judge Martha Holton Dimick said after noting that women forced into prostitution are victims.
While the judge was ultimately sympathetic to Meshbesher’s bail argument, she noted that 99 percent of the population, except for Childs and Westrom, could be ruled out as contributors to DNA found at the crime scene.
Meshbesher said after the hearing that he plans to conduct his own investigation. He has hired a DNA expert from Idaho.
“I’ve hired a number of people who are going to help delve into this case in a very deep way because right now everything is very superficial,” he said.
Meshbesher wants to know more about Childs’ prostitution, who was prostituting her and how much money she made.
“It means a lot in the big scheme of things,” he said without elaborating.
Westrom declined to comment.
Westrom led a fairly high profile life in the Isanti area with business ventures and youth athletics. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business from the University of Minnesota in 1989 and managed an organic farm, according to his now-dormant blog.