GREENFIELD — The case against a Greenfield mom charged in the death of her toddler will remain in Hancock County, despite her attorney’s pleas Wednesday that she is the subject of such “public hatred” she can’t get a fair trial in Greenfield.
Jessica Wagoner and her husband, Matthew Wagoner, were arrested and charged with murder and neglect in May following the death of their daughter, 1-year-old Zoey Wagoner, who police reports say died from blunt-force trauma that could have been caused by being stomped on.
At a special hearing Wednesday, Philip Sheward, Jessica Wagoner’s public defender, requested to move her case from Hancock County, citing media reports he believed would prejudice jurors against his client should the case go to trial.
Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow denied that request, saying any bias against the defendant could be uncovered in the jury selection process, during which both defense attorneys and prosecutors question potential jurors about knowledge of the case and their ability to fairly weigh the evidence.
Snow also turned down Sheward’s request for a test jury, calling such a move worthless in determining whether an entire jury pool has been affected by the media coverage the case has received so far.
Zoey was found dead in her home May 30 in the 500 block of Wood Street in Greenfield. Medical reports showed she sustained multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, including lacerations to her liver, court documents state.
A babysitter called 911 around 9:30 a.m. the day Zoey died, saying the child was blue and unresponsive.
Sheward presented the court with hundreds of pages of media reports and social media posts about the case.
He focused on a quote from an investigator — that Zoey “lived in hell for a year” — that was repeatedly used in news coverage, saying, “That theory is patently false.”
Sheward admitted in court Wednesday his client had been investigated on several occasions by the Department of Child Services but said the allegations related to physical abuse were all unsubstantiated.
He also argued comments made on social media about his client were “all negative and derisive and jump to the conclusion of guilt.”
“Ten, 20, 30 years ago, this was not a concern,” he said of the technology. “It’s … reality now.”
Those social media posts, Snow countered, weren’t necessarily made by Hancock County residents or even those who would be called as potential jurors.
After Snow delivered his ruling and was about to close the hearing, Sheward asked him to reconsider, saying it would be “an administrative nightmare” to move the case to later date if jury selection suggested there were too many biased jurors to proceed.
The request was again denied.
Deputy prosecutor John Keiffner told the judge the state would agree to having special questions drafted for jury selection in an effort to make sure jurors had not been swayed by media coverage.
Matthew Wagoner’s case was filed separately from his wife’s. He is represented by Jeff McClarnon, who has made no motions about moving his case.
The trial for both Wagoners is slated for Oct. 19.