CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A trio of defendants charged in the March 2020 death of a 5-year-old Harrison County boy have asked for separate trials.
Attorneys for defendants Michelle Boggs, Chasity Wodzinski and Peter Wodzinski made the request during a severance hearing Thursday morning,
Present in the hearing, which took place on Microsoft Teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were Harrison County Chief Circuit Judge James Matish, Harrison County Prosecutor Rachel Romano, Harrison County Assistant Prosecutor Gina Snuffer, along with the three defendants.
Representing Boggs was Dreama Sinkkanen, representing Peter Wodzinski was Jason Glass, while Perry Jones represented Chasity Wodzinski during the severance hearing.
At the start of the hearing, Glass argued that the reason for the severance request was that if the defendants were tried together, Peter Wodzinski would not be able to use statement from Boggs and Chasity Wodzinski as admissible evidence due to them being “permissible hearsay.”
Glass also argued that a unitary trial violated Peter Wodzinski’s constitutional right of confrontation, which is the ability to cross-examine and question Boggs and Chasity Wodzinski.
Jones agreed with Glass’ arguments and also argued that a unitary trial would create “unjust prejudice,” as trying the three together would bring a great risk of prejudice to Chasity Wodzinski; he argued that a separate trial for each defendant was the only way for there to be a fair trial.
In arguing for the state, Snuffer stated that the defendants had not met their burden of proof for the prejudice claim, and that no evidence has been given to show as much.
Snuffer also stated that in the history of the events leading up to the boy’s death, the defendants all lived in the same home and that the victim and Boggs moved in with Chasity Wodzinski and Peter Wodzinski in 2019, and it was in that same home where the injuries to the victim occurred.
She also stated that each of the defendants would have the same defense, the same witnesses would be called and the evidence for each case would be largely the same if the severance were to occur; for those reasons, Snuffer believed it would be best to have a unitary trial for “the interest of judicial economy.”
Matish then stated that there may be admissibility issues from the statements the defendants gave at the time the victim had been life-flighted, due to the statements being given in order to “treat and diagnose” the victim.
During that time, the defendants stated that the victim “self-harmed and the injuries were accidental.” Snuffer said that she does not believe those statements to the healthcare workers are inadmissible.
Jones responded to the contrary, again pointing out that the information was given to healthcare workers in order to treat and diagnose the victim, and that those statements would fall under “hearsay”; both Glass and Sinkkanen agreed.
Glass also pointed out that Peter Wodzinski was not present at the hospital when Boggs and Chasity Wodzinski gave their statements, but was at home and only gave information to law enforcement when asked about the incident at a later date while not under arrest.
Snuffer argued that the testimonies of each of the defendants should be excluded from hearsay because it is evidence of a conspiracy to obfuscate the truth of the incident and cover up criminal acts; she also stated that the defendants are not charged with conspiracy due to the charge of child abuse resulting in death, allowing for any co-conspirators to be charged with the crime despite not performing the abuse themselves if they attempt to conspire to hide evidence.
Snuffer also said that there was digital evidence for that crime, and that she did not believe that a unitary trial would violate the “confrontation clause,” because the jury will be able to determine each defendant’s role in the crime based upon the evidence.
Jones argued that, because the digital evidence was not present at the severance hearing, Snuffer could not use it to argue against the severance.
Glass then stated that he believed the “confrontation” violation issue is the biggest issue for Peter Wodzinski in the trial due to him being unable to cross-examine the co-defendants during the trial.
Upon hearing the arguments, Matish asked if a “Crawford analysis” could be used to determine which statements could be taken as testimonial and admissible, to which Jones replied that doing so would alleviate his concerns for his client; Glass agreed and Sinkkanen had no comment.
Matish then brought up that COVID-19 restrictions were a big cause for concern in performing a unitary trial due to the limited space in the courtroom and the size of the jury panel which would be required for each defendant.
Due to each defendant being allow “six strikes,” the jury pool, Matish stated, would have to be at least 45; the most people allowed in a courtroom at a time is approximately 30.
Snuffer proposed having the jury selection take place in a larger area or auditorium, but Matish stated that administrative issues, such as security, bathroom availability, sound system or even finding a facility willing to allow the jury selection to take place within it would bar potential venues.
After hearing from Snuffer about possibly continuing the trial until the last possible date to see if COVID restrictions would be lifted at that time, Matish did not make a decision on the severance during the hearing.
He did, however, state that he would take all the arguments under advisement and make a decision prior to the the final pre-trial hearing, which is set for Feb. 12 at 1 p.m.
The three remain in North Central Regional Jail with no bond set.