Kentucky woman recounts being pushed off cliff, son's death
By MORGAN EADS
Sep. 14, 2017
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — The moment she was pushed from an 80-foot cliff in Jackson County, Jessica Durham saw two huge rocks racing up to meet her and prayed that she wouldn't hit them.
In an interview at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital on Wednesday, Durham said she knew she was "broken" when she woke up hours after the fall. She could feel that her pelvis was in pieces. What she did not know was that her young son, James Spoonamore, was laying dead not far away.
Lonnie Belt, 41, of McKee has since been charged with James' murder, kidnapping, assault and evidence tampering. Police said he confessed to the attack and the killing, including some details Durham revealed.
At just 5 years old, James had viewed himself as the man of the house. He would wield a toy sword any time his stepfather was away and tell his mother that she was safe. So, when there was a knock at the door Friday, he was the one to alert Durham.
It was some time after 9:30 a.m. when James woke her up saying, "Mommy, door," Durham said. She almost didn't open the door, but the person knocking was persistent. Durham's husband, David, had left earlier for a doctor's appointment.
The man at the door was Belt, said Durham, 29. Belt had earlier agreed to take David Durham to the doctor's appointment.
"Lonnie told me, 'David's got up here and he has blacked out, passed out. He's on the floor, we can't get him up. Maybe if he hears your voice, we can get him up,'" Jessica Durham said.
She put on her shoes, grabbed James and got in Belt's car. She didn't put James' shoes on, because she didn't expect him to get out of the car, she said.
When they arrived at Belt's brother's nearby house, Belt told Durham that her husband was passed out at the end of the hallway in the left bedroom, she said.
"I get out of the vehicle and I'm kind of hurrying, because, you know, I love my husband and don't want nothing wrong with him," Durham said. "Just when I get to the end of the hallway and I open the door, I feel something hard hit me. It was a shock. That's about the time I realized David wasn't there."
David had been taken to the doctor by Belt's brother, Jake, after Lonnie Belt said that he needed to go into work early.
Belt struck Durham with a tire iron or something metal, she said.
"He hit me pretty hard, so down I go, but I didn't black out," Durham said. "He wanted me to black out ... I remember plain as day, my words were, 'What the F---,' because I didn't know what happened."
Durham said she remembers Belt said, "Oh man, you're supposed to black out, you didn't black out," before hitting her two or three more times in the head with the metal object. She still didn't pass out and Belt became frustrated and tried to choke her, she said.
Durham said she pulled at Belt's hands and told him, "Stop, dude, I give, I give."
"My kid is in the car, I'm thinking of James at this point," Durham said. "If I pass out, what's going to happen?"
Belt then let go of Durham.
"He says, 'I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make you bleed, you were supposed to black out,' like that made it better," Durham said.
Belt then picked Durham off the floor and leaned her against the wall, she said.
"I'm bleeding a lot, there's blood all over the wall, there's blood all over the floor," she said.
Durham said Belt tied her hands behind her back and took her shoes so she wouldn't run.
"I told him, 'you've got my kid, I'm not going to run away, you've got my baby,'" Durham said.
Something was put over Durham's face to block her vision. She said she later found out it was a sleep mask that he duct taped to her head. She can't remember whether she was carried or led to the car.
They then drove around for what "felt like a long time," possibly 30 to 40 minutes.
While Belt drove, Durham said she threw up in the floorboard. She hadn't eaten breakfast, so it was mostly stomach acid.
James was in the back seat right behind Belt, Durham said. Since she was sitting in the front passenger seat, her son could see the blood in her hair and on her shirt. If she held her head up and to the left, she could see her son under the blindfold.
"He tells me, he says 'Mommy, doctor, you need doctor, you beaten,'" Durham said. "I'm trying to be strong, I didn't want him to get worried, so I told him, I said 'It's OK, baby, mommy will see a doctor, it's OK.'"
At that point, Belt said he needed to bandage Durham's head and find somewhere to wait until her husband got back from the doctor.
"He had it in his head that David had stolen or borrowed money from him," Durham said.
Durham said her husband didn't have any of Belt's money and that she would have known if he had.
When Belt pulled over, Durham told James to stay in the car. She told him that she loved him and that she would be right back.
"He says, 'I love you mommy,'" Durham said. Sometimes James pronounced it "mom-may." It was one of those times.
"He knew something was wrong, but he couldn't quite figure out what," Durham said. "He was quiet, sitting back there quiet."
Belt took Durham to the edge of a cliff, but Durham said she didn't know it was a cliff at the time.
"He tells me, 'sit on the ground, I'm going to go get the first-aid kit and I'll bandage your head,'" Durham said. "He tells me, 'I'm not going to hurt your kid, I'm not going to hurt your baby.'"
A short while later, Durham was hit in the head again with the metal object.
"At this point, I struggled and got the rope off my arm, so I had part of it on and one hand out," Durham said. "I jerked the thing that he had over my face off and I fight back, I'm fighting with everything I've got."
Durham said she fought all the way to the edge of the cliff.
"I remember seeing two huge rocks, like the ground coming up at me," Durham said. "And I remember thinking dear God, don't let me hit those rocks. At that point, I black out."
Durham thinks she hit a rock and then rolled. When she woke up, the sun was directly above her, making her think it was probably around noon.
"Every time I heard a car that first day, I hollered and I screamed, 'help, somebody, anybody, help,'" Durham said.
That night was cold, Durham said. She said she was fighting to stay alive for her son, and to stay warm.
Despite her injuries, she remembers curling into a ball, pulling her knees, arms and head into her shirt. She lay perfectly still so no animals would bother her. That night, she was in and out of consciousness.
Early the next morning, when the sun had just started to rise, Durham decided she had to move.
"I remember thinking, if I want to get out of this and get out of this alive, I'm going to have to get away from where I'm at," Durham said.
She knew it would hurt, but she had to get to her baby and let her husband know she was OK.
She said there were two ways she could be more visible. To her left was an elevated log, but she knew it was too far. To her right was a little hill with trees she could use to pull herself along.
Durham tried to stand, but she fell. It took her about 20 minutes to recover from the pain of the fall.
Finally she army-crawled, using her broken ankle to push forward. It took hours, but she made it about 6 feet to a tree.
"I remember sitting there thinking, 'I've got to get out of here,'" Durham said. "I prayed my little heart out. And I hear something above me on the cliff."
She yelled "hello," and someone answered.
"I was just so happy," Durham said. "I said 'I need help,' and he said 'how did you get down there, did you fall?' and I said 'no, I was pushed.'"
The man, one of two hikers in the area, called an ambulance and went to the main road to guide in rescuers.
It took a while for the rescuers to get her back up the cliff, Durham said. At one point, rocks started to shower down to where she was.
The rescuer closest to her, a bald man with glasses and a gray T-shirt, shielded her with his body. She said she wishes she could thank him, but she doesn't remember his name.
"That was pretty courageous, he could have been hit in the head or anything," Durham said.
As her rescuers were bringing her up the slope, Durham asked for Sheriff Paul Hayes. She knew from previous experience he is kind and has a gentle way with people.
She told Hayes everything and begged him to find her baby. At that point, Durham hoped James was with her husband or social services, that Belt had dropped him off somewhere safe.
Durham was taken by ambulance to the road, where she was picked up by a helicopter and flown to UK Hospital.
She was lying in a hospital bed when a chaplain and a Kentucky State trooper or Jackson County sheriff's deputy came to her room. They told her they'd found James dead about 180 feet from where they'd found her.
"I've not really lived a whole life, but I've lived enough," Durham said. "Why didn't I die, why didn't my baby live? I would trade my life for his any second."
Durham is expected to be released from the hospital in a few days, but she dreads going home. Pictures of James cover every wall and his toys are just as he left them when he left the house Friday without shoes on his feet.
James was a sweet boy, Durham said. He had manners, he said please and thank you, he shared and he loved school. His favorite subjects were art and reading.
"I read to him every day from the day he was born," Durham said. "The kid loved books."
His favorite was "The Little Engine that Could."
James loved animals, especially his fish and his dog, Copper.
Before James was born, Durham had a miscarriage. She said she's not sure she could ever mentally handle having another child.
"It hurts so bad that it's over," Durham said. "But I have to say, those were the best five years of my life."
Durham and her husband have a long road ahead of them.
When things get tough, David Durham said Jessica has one thing to say. "Slow down, baby, one step at a time."
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com