HANCOCK COUNTY — Hancock County law enforcement officers investigated four homicides this year, and the court cases against those accused in the crimes are likely to dominate court dockets in 2016.
The deaths of two children were ruled homicides, and police said they believe each child’s parents are responsible for the deaths. Additionally, two fatal car accidents resulted in the arrests of drivers accused of driving while intoxicated. Prosecutor Brent Eaton expects these cases to close in 2016, with several heading to trial in the first few months of the new year.
All four homicides occurred between Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. In his more than 15 years working as a lawyer in the county, Eaton said, he has never seen so many complicated cases prosecuted at one time.
It will require prosecutors to prioritize cases on a congested court calendar. At least one of homicide case is expected to be rescheduled to give attorneys more time to prepare, Eaton said.
The four cases are divided between Hancock Circuit Court and Hancock County Superior Court 1, where Eaton’s leading aides, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter and Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner, are in charge of cases. Both attorneys have experience in taking high-level felony cases to trial and will take the lead in any homicide case that goes before a judge or jury, Eaton said.
Here’s a look at the county’s most notable cases expected to conclude in 2016:
Parents held in children’s deaths
Eaton expects to start the year with the trial of Matthew Wagoner. The 31-year-old is charged with murder and neglect in the death of his 1-year-old daughter, Zoey. Matthew Wagoner’s ex-wife, Jessica Wagoner, faces the same charges and is expected to stand trial in February.Greenfield police officers found Zoey dead inside the couple’s home May 28, and coroners ruled her death a homicide after finding she suffered multiple blunt-force trauma injuries that were consistent with being stomped on, according to court documents.An attorney for Matthew Wagoner requested a psychological evaluation, saying his client might not be mentally competent to stand trial. Results of those tests have not been released, and Matthew Wagoner remains scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 25. Courthouse clerks have been asked to assemble a 70-member jury pool for the case.
Jessica Wagoner’s trial is scheduled for Feb. 22. It is unclear whether she will testify against her ex-husband, Eaton said. She divorced her husband shortly after their arrests, court records show.
A few months after the Wagoners were charged, Charles Jenkins, 21, was charged in a similar incident.
His 3-month-old son, Brayden, died in November at Riley Hospital for Children after suffering blunt-force trauma to the head, according to court documents. Jenkins, who told police he tripped over the family dog and dropped the baby, is charged with aggravated battery, two counts of neglect and possession of marijuana.
Attorneys will appear before a judge Feb. 4 to discuss their progress on the case. Jenkins’ trial is set for April 12.
Drivers in crashes face homicide charges
Police said Charles Goodman of Gary was under the influence of cocaine and didn’t have a valid driver’s license when the bus he was driving crashed on Interstate 70 on July 28, killing a 6-year-old boy.Two lawyers who had represented Goodman recently withdrew from his case, and a new attorney has not yet been appointed, Eaton said, putting proceedings on hold. Court records show Goodman’s family plans to hire a new attorney. Should they not be able to afford one, the judge will likely turn to a public defender to oversee the case.
Goodman faces charges including reckless homicide and operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death. He is scheduled for trial March 14.
The trial of a teenager accused of drinking and driving is scheduled for Jan. 12, but prosecutors speculate the case will be rescheduled.
Timothy Hughes, 18, struck two cyclists in rural New Palestine while driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.28 percent, police said.
Carla McCloud, 22, was killed in the accident; her cousin, Amanda Wheeler, 22, suffered serious injuries.