GREENFIELD — Thursday marked nine months since 1-year-old Zoey Wagoner was killed. For those who helped investigate her case, working tirelessly to bring it to a close, it seemed fitting that on the anniversary of her death, she got a bit of justice, they said.
Matthew Wagoner, Zoey’s father, was found guilty Thursday in Hancock County Superior Court 1 of murdering and neglecting the little girl. After a four-day trial, a jury of 12 Hancock County residents decided the 31-year-old Wagoner was responsible for the assault that killed his daughter, and they convicted him of murder and neglect of a dependent resulting in death.
Zoey Wagoner died May 28 after sustaining blunt-force trauma injuries to her abdomen and head, medical experts testified. Her death was ruled a homicide, and her father and mother were charged. Wagoner will return to court next month for sentencing; he faces a penalty of 45 to 65 years for the murder charge and 20 to 40 years for neglect as a Level 1 felony.
The child’s mother, Jessica Wagoner, also faces charges of murder and neglect. Her trial is scheduled for next month.
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Prosecutors worked this week to prove Matthew Wagoner was the last to see his daughter alive and therefore caused the injuries that killed her. An autopsy performed on the little girl’s body revealed more than 50 injuries, including a severe laceration to her liver and bleeding in her brain.
Wagoner told police his daughter fell from a bed, but coroners determined that was untrue; the blows were more consistent with a fall from a second-story window or a serious car accident, testimony this week revealed.
During closing arguments, Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton reminded jurors of the text messages sent between Matthew Wagoner and Jessica Wagoner the morning their child died. During the exchange, Matthew Wagoner told his wife Zoey screamed around the time he was trying to give the little girl a bath. In the hour that followed, Matthew texted Jessica saying Zoey started to appear sleepy; he was walking her to a nearby gas station to purchase a soda; the child was moaning. The last text stated the girl fell off a bed and wasn’t breathing.
Those messages serve as the most solid evidence of Matthew Wagoner’s guilt when coupled with testimony given by forensic pathologist Dr. John Cavanaugh, who performed the autopsy on Zoey’s body, Eaton said.
On Wednesday, the third day of the trial, Cavanaugh said within an hour of the fatal blow being dealt, Zoey would have been in extreme pain, then she would have been lethargic and eventually unconscious before she ultimately died, Eaton reminded jurors Thursday.
Even as Matthew Wagoner noticed his daughter’s health deteriorating after a stranger at the gas station told him to seek medical attention for the girl, he did nothing, Eaton said, while asking the jury to find the defendant guilty.
In his final attempt to poke holes in the state’s story, Wagoner’s defense attorney, Jeff McClarnon, told jurors nobody knew exactly what happened; there were other characters in the story who could have harmed Zoey.
Throughout the trial, McClarnon tried to direct the jury’s attention to the child’s mother or babysitter, who more regularly cared for the little girl. During closing arguments, he told the jury the state could not prove any of the child’s injuries were caused by his client.
But the jury disagreed. After deliberating for roughly three hours, they returned a verdict that concurred with the state, leaving prosecutors, police and some of Zoey’s family members to breathe a sigh of relief.
Successful cases such as Wagoner’s takes teamwork, investigators said. Detectives with the Greenfield Police Department put in more than 500 hours of work in the first nine days following Zoey’s death, and work continued up to the start of trial Monday, said Detective Sgt. Nichole Gilbert.
Even though Matthew Wagoner’s trial has closed, there’s not much time to decompress or rest, Gilbert said. The trial against Jessica Wagoner is scheduled to begin Feb. 22, and discussions about how best to proceed with that case should start as early as next week, Eaton said.
Jessica Wagoner faces the same murder charge as her husband, along with two Level 1 felony counts of neglect of a dependent resulting in death and two Level 6 felony counts of neglect of a dependent for endangering her two other children for leaving them in Matthew Wagoner’s care against a state order, court documents state.