The father, mother, police, doctors, and hospital records all tell different stories about that night. Does anyone know the truth?
By Elizabeth Weil
Photographs by Talia Herman
Jennie and Kristian Aspelin have five sons — Lukas, who is six; Johan, who would be four but is dead; and the triplets, Peter, Rudy, and Tommy, who just turned one. Last spring, when the triplets were nearly 113 days old, Johan’s age when he died, Jennie told me about the letter from the donor agency. It arrived around Christmas 2010. At that time, Jennie’s husband, Kristian, wasn’t living at home, as he couldn’t legally share a residence with Lukas, then their only living son. In the letter, the California Transplant Donor Network thanked Jennie and Kristian for Johan’s heart, liver, pancreas, and small bowel and told them the ages of the children whose lives those organs had saved. After reading, Jennie called the California Transplant Donor Network. As she recalled, Johan’s lungs were requested soon after she’d signed the donation papers. Why was no small child breathing with them? The donor network promised Jennie they’d look into the matter, and several weeks later they gave her an answer: No child had received Johan’s lungs because Johan’s lungs were unusable.
Jennie set to work trying to collect all of Johan’s medical records because, on November 10, 2010, the State of California charged Kristian with penal code section 273a(a), willful cruelty to a child, a complaint amended three days later to include homicide for the death of their son. Kristian always maintained his innocence, and Jennie always believed him. Born in New York to Filipino parents, raised in Saudi Arabia, Jennie described herself as being “from tough stock” — here she was, caring alone for infant triplets, inviting me into her home. Over the course of the prior three and a half years she’d lost a baby, her house, her job, all of her money, and, very nearly, her husband. Her face had transformed. In pictures taken before Johan died and Kristian was charged with his murder, Jennie looks full of élan and glamour — a smart, sexy, worldly Asian beauty, long dark tresses…