‘I don’t think she’s gonna make it’

GREENFIELD — Twelve minutes before anyone called 911, Matthew Wagoner sent his wife a text message about his 1-year-old daughter: “She ain’t breathing.”

As Wagoner’s trial began Monday in Hancock County Superior Court 1, prosecutors told a jury the defendant knew his daughter was hurt and failed to seek help until it was too late to save her. Wagoner, 31, of Greenfield, is charged with murder and neglect causing death. His ex-wife, Jessica Wagoner, faces the same charges in a separate case.

Zoey Wagoner died after sustaining multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, according to court documents. Her death was ruled a homicide by coroners. Police said Wagoner was the last to see her alive and likely caused the injuries that killed her.

Monday’s proceedings started with jury selection, with attorneys questioning about 75 people before settling on a jury of 12 Hancock County residents — seven women and five men — to weigh the case against Wagoner, whose attorney argued there’s no evidence to determine who caused Zoey’s injuries.

During jury selection, prosecutor Brent Eaton explained to potential jurors two scenarios that can result in a murder charge — hinting at the direction the state’s case will take in the coming days.

Making a statement about killing someone before pulling the trigger would result in a murder charge, Eaton said. But a person who harms someone and makes the conscious decision to leave them to die — which prosecutors accuse Wagoner of doing — is guilty of the same crime, he said.

The neglect charge, he said, points to a father who might have saved his daughter if only he’d tried.

If a young child were to fall into a swimming pool and immediately sink to the bottom, what would be the appropriate amount of time to wait before trying to help that child, Eaton asked the jury. Sometimes a crime is committed by someone doing nothing at all, Eaton said.

Jeff McClarnon of Greenfield, Wagoner’s attorney, focused his questions during jury selection on making sure those weighing the case against his client understood the legal implications of having reasonable doubt about a defendant’s guilt.

Both sides asked potential jurors if they knew anyone involved in the case, from the attorney to possible witnesses. Jurors also were asked if they’d seen or heard media reports on the case and if those reports would have an impact on their judgement.

During the state’s opening statements, Deputy prosecutor John Keiffner told jurors a fall from a bed could not have caused Zoey’s death as Matthew Wagoner claims. Coroners cataloged more than 40 injuries to the toddler’s body, including bruising, scratches and bleeding in her brain, Keiffner said.

Worst of all, Keiffner said, the child sustained severe lacerations to her liver, which would have caused her extreme pain in the hours before she died. Zoey would have become lethargic, comatose and, eventually, unresponsive, Keiffner told jurors.

As Zoey suffered from severe internal bleeding, Wagoner would have known something was wrong, Keiffner said. Instead of seeking help for the girl, Keiffner said prosecutors believe Matthew just watched “as Zoey bled out right in front of him.”

But McClarnon told jurors the state’s case is missing crucial elements. No one knows exactly when Zoey was injured, and there is no proof who delivered the fatal blow, McClarnon told jurors.

“There is going to be a lot of evidence that makes my client look bad,” McClarnon said in court, “but pay attention to what they don’t have.”

The state’s evidence, which prosecutors presented as the trial began Monday afternoon, focused on video evidence from the patrol car of Greenfield Police Department Sgt. Charles McMichael and another officer who were the first to arrive at the Wagoners’ home in the 500 block of Wood Street on May 28, the day Zoey died.

In the videos, Wagoner can be heard screaming and crying while first-responders tend to his daughter. He repeatedly tells police between sobs that Zoey fell off the bed.

Between attempts to revive the child, McMichael, the first officer on the scene that day, can be heard making an observation that would soon become fact: “I don’t think she’s gonna make it.”

Proceedings will continue Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Superior Court 1.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.