Autopsy determines suffocation, blunt force trauma as cause of infant’s death 


Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Nearly a year after authorities responded to a call in Franklin of an unresponsive infant, the autopsy of Liam Wilson was released late last Wednesday and confirmed that the baby died as a result of suffocation due to smothering and blunt force trauma to the head. 

“Now that we have the autopsy, we will be able to begin to have any pretrial hearings and we will be moving towards setting a trial date,” said District Attorney Ashley Welch. 

The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released the autopsy results last week after more than 10 months of review in the death of three-month-old Liam Wilson. Liam was found unresponsive at his home on Marion Thomas Road in Franklin on May 10, 2017, and was pronounced dead at Angel Medical Center. 

Liam’s parents, Julia Angel Vance, and Jesse Wilson, were arrested for the murder of the infant and are being held at the Macon County Detention Center. The District Attorney’s office is trying the case as a capital murder, which means that the death penalty is being considered in the event Vance and/or Wilson are convicted of murder. 

Vance was indicted for murder five months after Wilson was also indicted and charged with first degree murder.

MCSO Detectives Dani Burrows and Amy Stewart launched the investigation after Liam was pronounced dead at Angel Medical Center. According to MCSO reports, Wilson was caring for Liam while Vance was at work. Wilson told authorities he placed Liam face down to sleep in his bassinet after feeding him at 6 a.m. on the morning of May 9, when he placed the call to 9-1-1.

Wilson called 9-1-1 to report that Liam was not breathing. 

The 9-1-1 tape included Wilson asking for help.

“I think my baby suffocated. I need somebody to come out here now,” Wilson said.

“Is he breathing?” the 9-1-1 dispatcher asked.

Wilson responded, “No. He is not breathing right now. I put him in his room to lay down.”

Wilson told 9-1-1 his baby often slept on his belly.

“I checked on him and he was OK. I left him in there for about 30 minutes and came back. He’s not breathing and he’s still laying on his face,” he said. “And I moved him out to the living room and he’s not breathing. I need someone out here now. I need help.”

Court documents show that first responders arrived on scene just before 9 a.m. to find the child unresponsive. MCSO deputies who responded to the call observed that Liam appeared to have bruises on his forehead before being transported to the hospital. According to Dr. Theodore Sikorski, who spoke to detectives after Liam was pronounced dead, the bruises on Liam’s head appeared to look similar to fingerprints. During the interview with Vance, she told detectives she was concerned about seeing bruises on Liam’s head every time that she left Wilson to care for him.

After several interviews,Wilson admitted that he often got frustrated with Liam and would squeeze his head. Wilson stated that when he would do that Liam would, “look at him all funny with his eyes and go down to a whimper.” Wilson admitted that he had been reacting that way to the infant in the month and a half after he became the primary caretaker for Liam since he was out of work and the child’s mother was employed. He also admitted to squeezing the child’s head the morning of the infant’s death.