How 'Inside Edition' Helped Get Justice for a Murdered Toddler

Juliette Geurts was 2 years old when she was beaten to death in 2008, according to investigators. Geurts Family

Last Thursday, February 26, in a courtroom in Gering, Nebraska, a jury rendered a verdict of guilty against Dustin Chauncey, who was charged with intentional child abuse resulting in death. The jury deliberated less than two hours in a case that took more than six years to bring to trial, a trial that would never have taken place were it not for a pair of intrepid women.

“There were many days that I wanted to give up,” says Monica Hall, who led a petition drive that compelled a grand jury to investigate the 2008 death of her niece, Juliette Geurts, who was 2 years old when she was beaten to death. “I didn’t know where to turn.”

“My show didn’t want me to do this story at first, and my producers didn’t want me to do this story,” says Inside Edition investigative reporter Lisa Guerrero. “Not because of the subject matter but because of the cost. But to their credit they gave it the go-ahead.”

In the predawn hours of July 11, 2008 Juliette, a toddler, was savagely beaten in her own home, just a few feet away from her identical twin sister, Jaylen. Juliette suffered a lacerated liver from a kick to the stomach as well as a badly bruised lung and cerebral hemorrhaging. The foundation of Juliette’s crib was broken during the assault.

Three adults—two men as well as the twins’ mother, Charyse Geurts—were inside the thumbnail ranch-style dwelling in the remote town of Gering that night. The trio had been partying, drinking rum and smoking pot, yet for years no one was arrested. The murder of Juliette Geurts went unsolved and largely uninvestigated.

A tiny and seemingly inconsequential life in a tiny and seemingly inconsequential town had been snuffed out. The police investigation went nowhere and the three principal witnesses and/or suspects scattered: Charyse Geurts moved to northern Wisconsin while her boyfriend, Dustin Chauncey (who is not the father of the twins) and the third adult, Brandon Townsend, moved to separate towns in Colorado.

Hall, a nurse who lives 850 miles east of Gering in Lodi, Wisconsin, grew frustrated by the desultory police investigation. It took five days for police to seal the home as a crime scene, and it was one year before Juliette’s clothes were sent to a crime lab. “I was desperate, so I began contacting news outlets,” says Hall. “CNN. Nancy Grace. They weren’t interested because the police report was sealed.”

Some four years after Juliette was laid to rest, a child advocate who knew of the case put Hall in touch with Guerrero. By this point, in the autumn of 2012, Hall had discovered an arcane statute stipulating that a petition signed by 10 percent of the registered voters in a county is sufficient to compel a grand jury to be convened and a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate an unsolved crime. Nebraska is one of just six states with such a statute. “I needed help because I don’t live in the county [Scotts Bluff] where Gering is located,” says Hall. “I had three months to collect 900 signatures, but I needed local residents to collect them. As an outsider, I could not collect them.”

03_03_Geurts_02 Inside Edition's Lisa Guerrero looked into the death of toddler Juliette Geurts and spurred investigators to take another look at the case. Lisa Guerrero

It was then that Guerrero, her producer and cameraman took up Hall’s (and Juliette’s) cause. The Inside Edition trio came to Gering and questioned the police chief, Mel Briggs, who didn’t have a good answer for why the case had been handled with such apparent indifference. Then Guerrero and her team did the Gering Police Department’s job for them, tracking down Charyse Geurts, Dustin Chauncey and Brandon Townsend.

All three, separately and with varying degrees of reluctance, were interviewed by Guerrero, on camera. Townsend, who had told police he had passed out drunk the night Juliette was killed, told her, “I think Dustin went in there in the middle of the night and beat her too hard.” Geurts, who was reduced to tears when confronted by Guerrero, said on camera, “Yeah, I believe that [Dustin] did it.”

Guerrero’s story aired on October 20, 2012. At the time Hall was still well short of the 900 signatures she needed to convene a grand jury. Within a week or so she had 1,700.

“This case exemplifies how one or two people can make a difference,” says Guerrero.

The police work was both sloppy and lethargic, as the grand jury’s and Guerrero’s investigation would reveal. The grand jury and special prosecutor Jim Zimmerman for the first time were able to corral evidence, such as DNA taken from the child’s clothing and testimony from Townsend that had not previously been gathered, and obtain an indictment.

It was learned that only three weeks before fatally beating Juliette, Dustin Chauncey had beaten a man with a baseball bat. There was an outstanding warrant for his arrest on the night the police responded to the 911 call involving Juliette’s death, but Chauncey gave them his brother’s name and no one checked on it.

By the time Guerrero tracked Chauncey down in Colorado in 2012, he had been arrested a dozen times for everything from theft to violent assaults. In fact, Guerrero was only able to put a microphone in front of his face after Chauncey had been stopped on a traffic violation while fleeing Inside Edition’s camera crew. “He was sitting in the passenger seat and the window was open,” said Guerrero, “so I simply approached him when the police officer returned to his vehicle.”

The evidence presented during last week’s trial, which lasted just three days, illuminated a sickening and horrific end for Juliette Geurts. DNA analysis of her clothing revealed evidence of Chauncey’s semen. The prosecution posited a story that Juliette climbed out of her crib and entered  her mother’s bedroom while she  and Chauncey were having sex. According to the prosecution, Chauncey kicked the two-year old in the stomach and continued to physically, but not sexually, abuse Juliette before picking her up and placing her back in her crib.

Chauncey did not testify in his own defense during his trial and Geurts, though offered full immunity in exchange for her testimony, refused to take the stand against her daughter’s killer. Still, the jury returned a guilty verdict after less than two hours of deliberations. Sentencing for Chauncey, who is facing 20 years to life, will take place on April 10.

For Guerrero, it was the latest interesting chapter in a unique career. A former NFL cheerleader who never attended college, Guerrero was in the late 1990s both a soap opera vixen (Sunset Beach) and local sports reporter for the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. She worked a few years at Fox Sports before spending one season (2003) as the sideline reporter for Monday Night Football. In 2006 she appeared on the cover of Playboy. And last week, nearly a decade into her latest media iteration as a reporter for Inside Edition, she sat in a courtroom in the heart of flyover country awaiting a verdict in a case involving a toddler whom she had never met.

“When they read the verdict and found him guilty,” says Guerrero, whose update on the case will air on Inside Edition tonight, “well, I’ve never had a moment like that in my life. It was the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career.”

“Lisa’s work in this case was huge,” says Monica Hall. “I don’t know if we would have gotten that verdict without her.”

Editor's Pick