Pathologist: Fatal injuries occured in hours before death

GREENFIELD — There wasn’t a body bag small enough for Zoey Wagoner.

When Dr. John Cavanaugh, a forensic pathologist with the Marion County Coroner’s Office, took the stand Wednesday in the trial against Zoey’s father, Matthew Wagoner, he noted the bag used to transport the 1-year-old’s body to his office was smaller than the ones used for adults but still too big to properly hold the little girl’s body. Inside, he said, there was a child not strong enough to endure the assault he determined caused her death.

The state called its final witnesses Wednesday after working for three days to convince 12 Hancock County residents serving as jurors that Wagoner delivered the more than 50 injuries Cavanaugh said he found when examining Zoey’s body.

Prosecutors said Wagoner was the last to see his daughter alive. The girl died after sustaining multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, according to court documents. She was found unresponsive May 28 in her home in the 500 block of Wood Street in Greenfield. Coroners ruled her death a homicide.

The state rested its case against Wagoner late Wednesday afternoon in Hancock County Superior Court 1. Jeff McClarnon, Wagoner’s defense attorney, will begin calling witnesses Thursday morning, and jurors could begin deliberating as early as Thursday afternoon.

Wagoner faces charges of murder and neglect of a dependent resulting in death. The child’s mother, Jessica Wagoner, faces the same charges; her trial is scheduled for next month.

For more than three hours Wednesday, Cavanaugh told jurors of the extent of Zoey’s injuries and showed the court photographs taken during the autopsy.

It was the damage coroners found inside Zoey’s abdomen that likely killed her, Cavanaugh said.

Zoey had a severe laceration to her liver, and whatever blow was delivered there also caused damage to other organs, Cavanaugh testified. There was also an injury to Zoey’s head near the base of her neck that caused bleeding on her brain, he continued.

There was evidence of blunt force trauma to other areas of the girl’s head and abdomen, as well as blows to her chest, arms and legs, Cavanaugh said.

All of the internal injuries would have occurred in the hours before Zoey died and would not have been caused by a fall from a bed, as Wagoner told police during the investigation, Cavanaugh said.

Other testimony Wednesday supported prosecutors’ claim that Matthew Wagoner changed his story about what happened on the morning Zoey died multiple times.

The jury watched a recorded interview Greenfield Police Department Detective Sgt. John Cutler conducted with Wagoner prior to the man’s arrest. During his conversation with police Wagoner, he said no one ever hurt Zoey, and he never noticed marks on the girl’s body.

He later said he often suspected Zoey’s babysitter, Krista Coffin, who testified Tuesday, was rough with the girl, and he went on to say his wife, Jessica Wagoner, would slap Zoey and treat her like a rag doll, the video revealed.

But Jeff McClarnon of Greenfield, Wagoner’s defense attorney, argued the statements his client gave to police about his own actions May 28 were always consistent: Each time Matthew Wagoner was questioned by police, he told the same tale of waking the girl, giving her a bath, walking with her to a nearby gas station and returning home, where she fell off a bed and stopped breathing.

Zoey was rarely left with her father, McClarnon said, suggesting that someone other than his client likely caused the injuries, like the girl’s mother or babysitter, who took charge in caring for the child more frequently.

Witnesses interviewed by police said Matthew Wagoner was left to care for his daughter only on May 28, Greenfield Detective Sgt. Nichole Gilbert testified.

“It was also the only time Zoey was killed, right?” Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner asked.

“Yes,” Gilbert answered.

Author photo
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or