Victim’s mother testifies in trial for man accused in hotel murder

SAN DIEGO -- The mother of a 26-year-old woman killed at a San Diego hotel last December testified Thursday that her daughter sounded “scared'' on the phone moments before the older woman heard a struggle and the line going dead.

Ann Nielsen said her daughter, Jhordann Rust, called her from the 500 West Hotel the night of Dec. 12, soon after Rust and her fiance, Cory Nowell, arrived in San Diego.

The couple went drinking and police arrested Nowell after he allegedly shoved Rust, and she called her mother in Wisconsin, saying she was scared and alone.

Later that night, Rust was seen with hotel resident Jason Bradwell Lewis, who is charged with her murder.

Lewis, 41, and Rust were seen buying a bottle of wine at a nearby store, and Rust was later seen going into the defendant's fifth-floor room.

Nielsen testified that her daughter called her and kept her on the phone for two hours, with two males in the background calling Rust names and saying they didn't want to hear about her boyfriend being arrested.

Rust said one of the men was cool but she was “terrified'' of the other one, according to Nielsen.

”I told her to get the hell out of there,'' Nielsen testified.

The mother said she heard a “thud'' and heard her daughter say “it hurts.''

”It kept going and going and going,'' Nielsen testified.

The mother said she called San Diego police, telling a dispatcher that her daughter was being attacked.

”Literally, someone is beating the hell out of her,'' the mother told police.

Rust's body was found later in a second-floor communal bathroom area of the hotel.

Deputy District Attorney Melissa Vasel told a jury that the victim's body had been moved and dumped in the bathroom area. The prosecutor said Lewis at some point bought a large suitcase and his fingerprint was found on a sink near the body.

Inside a nearby trash can, officers found Nowell's cell phone and a blood-stained mattress pad and some of the victim's clothing, Vasel said.

Vasel said Rust and Nowell lived a transient lifestyle and came to San Diego with hope, but left in despair.

Lewis' attorney said his client was not guilty.

If convicted, Lewis faces 56 years to life in prison.