Carolyn Aune is still being charged with first-degree murder despite some ambiguity surrounding her role in the death of a 2-year-old partly in her care. Her case was bound over to district court.
The decision to keep the charge came after a more than two hour back-and-forth discussion in Judge Bruce Waters’ circuit court on Thursday morning. Although Waters said there is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence present in the case, the fact that a young child died while in Aune’s care was enough to sway him. Under Wyoming law, anyone who perpetrates child abuse against someone 16-years-old or younger that results in their death can be charged with first-degree murder, whether they intended to kill the child or not.
“As far as who actually inflicted the injury or injuries to the child, the state doesn’t know that, but we do have the responsible party of the child,” Waters said. “The court does find that probable cause exists, but Aune’s involvement in that crime is an issue.”
The state is prosecuting Aune and Moshe Williams jointly for their alleged roles in the death of Williams’ daughter, Paisleigh Williams, 2.
Both Park County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jack Hatfield and Cody Police Detective Juston Wead admitted it is still unknown who inflicted the injuries that led to the death of the child and Wead, who was called to the witness stand to testify about his knowledge of the case, said the investigation is still ongoing.
Thursday’s discussion centered on whether the state must know if it was Aune or Moshe Williams who caused the physical harm.
“If the state wants to say they don’t have to prove who did it, they have to prove whether it was intentional or reckless,” said Travis Smith, Aune’s public defender attorney said. “They can’t prove by probable cause the predicate (child abuse) offense.”
Wyoming law defines child abuse as inflicting or causing physical or mental injury, harm or imminent danger to the physical or mental health or welfare of a child other than by accidental measures. When dealing with issues of malnutrition, however, only then is ignorance not accepted by law.
“Either way, there’s some question as to how did Carolyn Aune inflict. The state is just tossing it up,” Smith said. “There’s got to be probable cause for how it’s done. The state chose, instead of filing disjunctive cases against the two, to merge the cases together because they don’t know who did it.
“Typically, a preliminary hearing is a question of probable cause. This one borders on due process. They’re saying somebody did it, but we don’t know who did it, so we’re going to charge two people because they live under the same roof.”
Smith pointed to Moshe Williams’ lack of response to the incident and stressed Aune’s lack of involvement, which he said disqualifies her acts from constituting child abuse. Although she was not a custodial parent or legal guardian for Paisleigh Williams, she was an adult with physical control over the child, Smith said.
Hatfield said how emergency personnel were immediately alarmed when Paisleigh Williams was checked into West Park Hospital as proof Aune and Moshe Williams should have acted much sooner in bringing her there. Wead said conversations with Colorado Children’s Hospital staff where Paisleigh Williams was treated, aligned with this viewpoint, in that she would have almost immediately started showing serious signs of illness following her physical injury.
“That sickness should have been plainly obvious to the caretakers,” Wead said. “A reasonable person would have seeked medical attention for that quickly.”
Both Aune and Moshe Williams spent time at their home the evening before and morning of the day Paisleigh Williams was taken to the hospital, according to the police affidavit. Based on the timeline of Paisleigh Williams’ symptoms and when her father and Aune said they noticed them in the affidavit, at least 16 hours had passed before they took her to the emergency room.
In his argument to keep the first-degree murder charge, Hatfield also cited a 2017 Wyoming Supreme Court case, Foltz Jr. v. Wyoming, which he said, “could not get any closer” to the Aune and Williams case. In that decision, the Supreme Court affirmed a Campbell County jury’s decision that found Foltz guilty of committing child abuse on his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son leading to first degree murder, despite his claims there was insufficient evidence to prove it.
“Clearly, Wyoming law recognizes failure to seek medical care in a timely manner for a child who has suffered injury as liable for that child’s death,” Hatfield said.
Wead revealed during the hearing that search warrants had been filed on both Aune and Moshe Williams’ phones.
According to the affidavit, a search of Aune’s phone showed she had been looking up information on fractured hands more than a week before it was ever determined by medical professionals that Paisleigh Williams had that injury.
Williams’ phone showed he had looked up information about dislocated shoulders about three to four days before Paisleigh Williams was diagnosed with a fractured clavicle. Investigators said Moshe Williams’ explanation for that injury was also determined implausible, in that a 1 1/2 year old could not have caused the injury by kicking her, as he suggested.
Smith mentioned this event as defense for Aune, as she was not home when that injury occurred.
“That had nothing to do with my client,” he said.
Authorities also discovered Moshe Williams searched his phone around March 17 regarding swelling and inflammation of the hand and on March 23 looked up how to get rid of bruises.
Neither Aune nor Moshe Williams ever said the victim’s injuries were due to corporal punishment.
Wead said Aune’s 9-year-old child was interviewed in relation to this case, who said they did not think they caused Paisleigh Williams’ injuries while sleepwalking, an explanation that Moshe Williams and Aune had suggested.
A relatively narrow timeframe has been locked down as far as when the injuries were inflicted on Paisleigh Williams that led to her death. According to the affidavit, while she was undergoing surgery the morning of March 28, it was determined through analyzing tissue degradation that the injuries had occurred 24-48 hours before. Paisleigh Williams actually had a doctor’s appointment for the fractured clavicle the afternoon of March 25, at which no bruises were seen. Aune said Paisleigh Williams started throwing up around 6:30 a.m. March 26, according to the affidavit, which if true, means the injuries had to have occurred earlier that morning to align with the 24-48 hour timeline.