POWELL — Following the death of a 2-year-old Cody girl, the child’s caregivers are each facing a charge of first-degree murder.
On Monday, Park County prosecutors upgraded the child abuse charges against Moshe Williams, 30, and his girlfriend, 28-year-old Carolyn Aune. They allege that Williams and Aune inflicted a fatal injury to his daughter, Paisleigh Williams, after months of abuse.
Paisleigh died on April 4 at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Charging documents filed Monday indicate the child died as a result of blunt force trauma to her abdomen; the blow reportedly separated her intestines in two places.
In a postmortem examination last week, pathologist Dr. Stephen Cina of the Adams County, Colorado, Coroner’s Office said “this injury is classic child abuse and gave an example of a significant ‘gut punch,’” Cody Det. Sgt. Juston Wead wrote in an affidavit.
Wead quotes doctors as saying the injury appeared to have been inflicted sometime between the night of March 25 and the afternoon of March 27, when Williams sought medical treatment for his daughter at Cody Regional Hospital. However, the officer’s affidavit does not indicate how the injury occurred or who might have been responsible.
In interviews with Cody police, Aune and Williams reportedly cast suspicion on one another, but they each denied ever abusing the child or knowing how she was injured, charging documents say.
At a Monday hearing in Park County Circuit Court, Aune’s defense attorney attacked the case against her.
“At this point, based on the affidavit … and with the enhanced charge now, I think there’s real problems with proof, based on what we’ve seen, as to my client’s culpability on anything — let alone a homicide,” attorney Travis Smith said.
Smith made the comment in response to a request from Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield to have the couple held without bond while the case is pending.
State law allows judges to deny bail in first-degree murder cases — “if the proof is evident or the presumption great.” Hatfield described that standard as being “as long as we make a sufficient showing that we can get through to trial, then they should not be eligible for bail.”
However, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters said it was more appropriate in this case to leave Aune and Williams’ bonds at $1 million cash each. They’ve been held in jail and unable to post bail since being arrested on the morning of March 31.
First-degree murder typically involves an allegation that a defendant killed someone “purposely and with premeditated malice.” However, the charge also can apply if the death occurs while the defendant is committing another violent felony — including child abuse.
Charging documents say doctors noted numerous injuries on Paisleigh’s body. She had fractured her left clavicle in March, with past fractures to her neck and several ribs that appeared to have been broken months earlier, Wead’s affidavit says. Dr. Cina told the officer that the rib fractures often occur from side pressure, like squeezing, and are “common in child abuse cases.”
Meanwhile, Cina said that bruises on the top of the child’s scalp appeared to come from “broad impact,” according to charging documents, such as hitting a wall or floor. Those injuries had occurred days or weeks earlier, Wead wrote, as had other bruises and scrapes on the back of her head.
Cina also found signs of infection in the child’s organs, fluid in her brain and lungs that most likely were related to the blow to the abdomen, according to Wead’s summary of the doctor’s statements.
By the time Paisleigh was brought to Cody Regional Health in the early afternoon of March 27, she was unresponsive. The child then suffered a heart attack while being flown to Children’s Hospital Colorado. She was returned to Cody and stabilized, but suffered serious brain damage. She was placed on a ventilator and on April 2, a decision was made to focus on Paisleigh’s comfort, Wead said. Paisleigh died two days later.
Aune and Williams reportedly told police they initially thought the toddler was suffering from some kind of stomach bug, as she couldn’t keep anything down on March 26. Doctors indicated the actual cause was the injury to her abdomen and intestines.
Williams and Aune reportedly gave police various explanations and theories about the different injuries that medical personnel and officers observed on the child. For example, they said the 2-year-old had fallen on a stool and out of a low-lying toddler bed, and suggested other injuries could have come from other children in the home.
However, police rejected the couple’s explanations for the injuries as implausible. Dr. Cina reportedly said last week that, “based on the totality of (all the) injuries to the child and overall condition of (Paisleigh), he believes it was at the hands of an adult or adults,” Wead wrote in his affidavit.
Williams and Aune each told police they did not cause Paisleigh’s injuries.
“I don’t beat my child,” Williams reportedly said, while Aune offered that, “I know for a fact that I did not touch her.”
However, Williams reportedly made a comment about Aune “trying to save herself,” while Aune suggested Williams was responsible, saying, “I don’t know who else would have done it.”
While they are currently charged in a single, joint case, it’s possible that the couple will eventually ask to be tried separately.
Judge Waters initially planned to schedule one preliminary hearing for both defendants, but after a scheduling conflict, Aune’s defense attorney said he had no problem with the hearings being scheduled separately.
“I’m not trying to allude to anything, but quite honestly, I think if they’re separate … I don’t have any strong opposition to doing it,” Smith said.
Williams is currently set for a preliminary hearing on Friday, with Aune’s set for Thursday, April 22.