8 years added to murderer’s sentence

Wagoner pleads guilty in unrelated Henry County child exploitation case

NEW CASTLE — Eight years have been added to the prison sentence of a Greenfield man convicted of killing his 1-year-old daughter after he pleaded guilty in an unrelated child exploitation case.

A Hancock County jury found Matthew Wagoner, 32, of Greenfield, guilty of murder last year in the death of his daughter, Zoey; he was sentenced to serve 67½ years in the Indiana Department of Correction. Before his May 2015 arrest in Hancock County, Wagoner faced charges in an unrelated Henry County case in which he was accused of sexually assaulting and exploiting another child.

As part of a plea agreement, Wagoner pleaded guilty in Henry Circuit Court 2 to child exploitation, a Class C felony, the Courier-Times in New Castle reported. He was sentenced to serve an additional eight years in an Indiana Department of Correction facility following his Hancock County sentence.

Wagoner remains in the state’s Miami Correctional Facility in Bunker Hill; his earliest possible release date is set for June 2064. He will be 79.

As part of the plea agreement Wagoner accepted, two counts of child molestation were dropped. When released from prison, Wagoner will be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years, the Courier-Times reported.

Henry County Prosecutor Joe Bergacs said he felt the terms of the plea agreement were fair, considering the length of prison time Wagoner already received in the Hancock County case. Bergacs also said that reaching a plea agreement prevented Wagoner’s victims from having to endure a trial.

Police in Henry County began investigating Wagoner in early 2014 after two women reported having found inappropriate photographs of a young girl’s body on Wagoner’s cellphone, according to court documents.

Wagoner told police he had photographed the child, who was often left in his care, after she complained of an irritation on her skin; but the victim told police she never felt any discomfort, according to charging documents. Wagoner said he intended to send the photographs to the child’s mother; the woman never received them, court document state.

As detectives were investigating those allegations, another victim came forward and accused Wagoner. A young girl reported she saw Wagoner forcing a friend of hers — the same child he was accused of photographing — to participate in a sex act, charging documents state.

The girl told police the abuse occurred when she and a friend were staying the night at Wagoner’s home in Henry County in late 2013. The girl described to investigators that she watched Wagoner assault her friend through a crack in the door, court documents state.

Wagoner and his then-wife, Jessica Merriman, moved to Hancock County in 2015 while the Henry County charges were pending against him. Within days of their arrival in Greenfield, the couple’s 1-year-old daughter was found unresponsive in their home; investigators believe she died of blunt-force trauma.