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Crime News Kill or Be Killed

"Abused" Wife Fatally Shot Husband, Had Body Buried on Farm a Week After Taking Out Protective Order

After Javon Donahue's body was dug up from a Missouri farm, his wife Jema eventually admitted to fatally shooting him. She described being choked, beaten, sodomized, and held in a closet while married to Javon.


By Joe Dziemianowicz

On April 21, 2017, sheriffs in Warrensburg, Missouri received a disturbing phone tip. They were told that the body of Javon Donahue would be found buried on a local farm.

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“The court granted the search warrant to go search the farm,” Johnson County District Attorney Bob Russell told Kill or Be Killed, airing Saturdays at 9/8c p.m. on Oxygen.

Sheriffs used excavators and cadaver dogs and recovered a body the same day the tip came in. It was determined to be 31-year-old Javon and the body was sent to the coroner for an autopsy.

“It’s clear we were dealing with a homicide,” said Michael Coleman, a detective sergeant with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

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Who buried Javon Donahue?

Local handyman Rick Armstrong reached out to police early on in the case. In a recorded interview, he told them that a week earlier, he’d gotten a call from Javon’s then-31-year-old wife, Jema Donahue. "Last weekend, on Friday, I got a phone call to us from Jema," Armstrong is heard saying in audio to authorities. "... I had to go help remove her husband from the house."

Armstrong had been called in the past to intervene when Javon had gotten abusive with Jema, according to Russell. When Armstrong arrived, Jema and her mother, Peggy Heffernan, were there.

Jema said “he was dead,” Armstrong said of Javon in a recorded police interview. Armstrong claimed that Heffernan gave him $400 to rent a backhoe to bury the body, which was rolled up in a tarp, on the farm.

Detectives determined from court records that Jema had reported incidents of domestic violence involving her husband. “A little over a week before his death, Jema had taken out an order of protection,” said Russell. 

Jema and Javon Donahue featured on Kill Or Be Killed episode 110

Jema Donahue, Peggy Heffernan questioned by police

Jema and her mother were questioned separately by police. In a recorded interview, Jema claimed to have no idea where Javon was.

Jema eventually broke down in tears, investigators said. She stated that she was home alone when Javon entered her house through a window.

Jema claimed that Javon was “acting erratic” and “lunging at her,” said Coleman. Javon opened a dresser drawer in which there was a gun, his wife told police, and they struggled for the weapon.

She said he got the gun, pointed it at her and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked four times. Javon dropped the gun, and Jema picked it up and took the safety off, she said. She realized that was why the gun just clicked.

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Jema Donahue admits to fatally shooting husband Javon Donahue

“She says Javon comes at her and she shoots him,” said Russell.

“I fired two shots,” Jema told police in the recorded interview. “I shot him in the shoulder. The second shot, I don’t know if it hit him.”

The struggle continued, she said in the interview. She told police that Javon said, “Well bitch, we’re both going to die together. Until death do us part.”

Jema said she aimed the gun at “both of our heads and pulled the trigger.” According to Russell, “Jema said she thought that they were both going to die together and that the bullet would go through his head and into hers.”

“Jema makes her first statement that it was self-defense,” said Russell. “But I had my doubts. People who believe that they’ve acted in self-defense are not worried about hiding a body.”  

Jema and Javon Donahue featured on Kill Or Be Killed episode 110

Jema Donahue’s mother gives her account

Heffernan told sheriffs that Jema called her at work on April 14. She rushed home and learned that Javon was dead.

“Jema told me that she dialed 911. But then she hung up,” said Heffernan. Jema said not to call police, according to her mother.

Jema claimed that “Javon had some family members that were possibly gang-affiliated,” said Russell. “Jema thought they would kill her too if they found out that she had shot and killed Javon.”

When Johnson County 911 called Jema’s number after the hangup, Heffernan had picked up the phone. She told the dispatcher that the call had been made in error.

Jema was charged with second-degree murder. Heffernan had no prior criminal record and was allowed to go at this point.

Police took Jema and Javon’s children to Jema’s sister's house a few towns over, according to Kill or Be Killed.  

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Javon Donahue’s troubled history

Javon struggled with “personal demons,” according to investigators. “Javon was mixed up in drugs, but his family said that he was just a genuinely good person,” said Coleman.

Warrensburg police obtained a search warrant to see if the crime scene matched Jema and Heffernan’s story. They recovered an empty box of 22-caliber ammunition.

Luminol, a substance that glows in the presence of blood, was used at the scene. It revealed “there was a lot of blood everywhere,” said Coleman.

After the scene was processed, Armstrong and Heffernan were charged with tampering with physical evidence. Heffernan was also charged with concealing a felony.

Heffernan and Armstrong accepted plea deals and got five years probation for tampering with evidence. Heffernan got an added 30 days in jail for concealing a felony.

Jema Donahue featured on Kill Or Be Killed episode 110

Jema Donahue "the most abused person," her lawyer says

With Jema out on bail, she, her lawyer and mental health experts worked to put together her self-defense case.

“After that first time that I met with Jema, I saw that she was the most abused person that I've ever represented,” her defense attorney, John Picerno, told Kill or Be Killed.

“In order to get the jury [to believe] the self-defense claim, we have to prove Jema was in fact a bona fide victim of abuse,” Picerno added. “We have to convince the jury that her actions were reasonable under the circumstances.”

Dr. Lisa Witcher, a forensic examiner, was appointed to evaluate Jema. “Jema presented with significant symptoms of trauma,” she said. “We were able to conclude that she suffered from battered spouse syndrome.”

Jema described being choked, beaten, sodomized, and imprisoned in a closet while married to Javon. Jema said she “held onto the hope” of being a family, but the abuse continued.

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Jema Donahue's dramatic trial

More than a year after her arrest, Jema’s trial began on November 13, 2018. “We always knew the big hurdle for the state” was getting over all the things Javon had done to Jema, said Russell.

The question was, in that singular moment, if she was in a kill-or-be-killed situation. There was no evidence of forced entry. There were no signs that Jema had been in a fight.

In addition, Jema took the safety off the gun and “then ultimately decided to pull the trigger,” said Russell. Then she hid the body.

Prosecutors called a forensic expert who testified that Jema’s self-defense story was inconsistent with Javon’s wounds.

Defense witnesses focused on the violence and abuse they’d seen Jema suffer. However, “according to the prosecutor, the fact that Jema tried to cover up this crime does not play into a battered woman's defense justification,” said crime podcaster Brian J. Corey.

When Jema took the stand, the case took a dramatic turn. Jema was uncooperative with her own lawyers. “She was very unstable,” said Picerno.

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With prosecutors, her behavior was angry and defensive. Russell asked Jema if she shot Javon in the back of his shoulder, the back of his head, in the jaw and under his chin.

“You call that self-defense?,” Russell remembers asking. “She said, ‘I never said this was self-defense. Those are your words.’”

Russell said, “If it’s not self-defense, what is this?,” he recalled. “She said, ‘This is a tragedy.’”

On November 16, 2018, Jema was acquitted of second-degree murder and found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and unlawful use of a weapon, among other charges. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to Missouri Department Of Corrections records.

Find out more about the case and Jema’s reflections on the crime in the “Taking It to the Grave” episode of Kill or Be Killed, airing Saturdays at 9/8c p.m. on Oxygen.