Cody couple accused of inflicting serious injuries on 2-year-old, leading to death

Posted 4/2/21

A Cody man and his partner are each facing a felony charge that alleges one or both of them inflicted serious injuries to his 2-year-old daughter, leading to her death.

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Cody couple accused of inflicting serious injuries on 2-year-old, leading to death


(This story has been updated.)

A Cody man and his partner are each facing a felony charge that alleges one or both of them inflicted serious injuries to his 2-year-old daughter, leading to her death.

During a Friday circuit court hearing for Moshe Williams and Carolyn Aune, a prosecutor had said Williams’ child was not expected to survive.

“The victim is likely to be taken off of life support sometime this weekend,” Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield said, choking up.

Paisleigh Williams ultimately died on Sunday afternoon. She would have turned 3 years old in June.

Williams, who is 30, and Aune, 28, currently stand charged with aggravated child abuse, with bail set at $1 million. However, Hatfield said his office would “almost certainly” upgrade the charges to first-degree murder if the child died — and he asserted that aggravating factors in the case could “potentially warrant a death sentence.”

Charging documents say the toddler's bowel had been separated in two places. Doctors reportedly concluded the injury came from some kind of severe impact to the girl's abdomen that occurred sometime between the night of Thursday, March 25 and midday Saturday, March 27, when Williams sought medical attention; the couple told police the toddler had become ill on Friday, March 26. The child also had two compressed vertebrae in her neck and bruises of various ages on her back, face, head, legs and arms, charging documents say, with a rib that appeared to have been broken one to two weeks earlier.

When Williams brought the girl to Cody Regional Health’s emergency room sometime after noon on March 27, she was unresponsive, charging documents say; she then went into cardiac arrest while being flown to Children’s Hospital Colorado. The girl was revived in Cody and made it to Denver, court records say, but had to be placed on a ventilator.

The Child Protection Team at Children’s Hospital Colorado concluded the girl had been abused and expressed concern about the lack of care she had received.

“It was the opinion of the team that the injuries to [the child] were sustained over a period of time and not from a singular event,” Cody Police Det. Sgt. Juston Wead wrote in an affidavit, adding that, “Although they could not say it [with] certainty, it was expressed that, more than likely, given the severity of the injuries, both caretaker[s] should have known what occurred.”

In interviews with police, Williams and Aune each denied abusing the girl.

“I don’t beat my child,” Williams reportedly said, while Aune is quoted as saying that, “I know for a fact that I did not touch her.”

Each suggested the other might have abused the toddler, but said they did not know how the girl received her injuries. The various theories they offered — including a suggestion that another child in the home inflicted the injuries while sleepwalking — were rejected by police as implausible.

Hatfield asked Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters to set bond for Aune and Williams at the $1 million figure.

“The egregious conduct of these two individuals with a 2-year-old, the agony that the 2-year-old suffered, leaves one to conclude that they are obviously a serious public safety hazard,” Hatfield said of the couple. The potential prison time they’re facing and the fact that they sought to leave the area after the incident also makes them a flight risk, the prosecutor argued.

Williams did not offer a rebuttal, though Aune questioned how she was a flight risk.

“I asked specifically for permission to leave and everyone said that that was OK,” Aune said.

In setting bail at $1 million, Judge Waters noted the seriousness of the allegations, saying he was concerned about the risk of the couple fleeing and the “safety to other people, particularly kids.”

The judge ordered Williams and Aune to have no contact with their four other children — who have been taken into protective custody — for the time being.


Worsening health

Aune and Williams have been living together since August with five children. They had their kids with different partners, according to the charging documents, which say Aune took care of Williams’ two children while he worked.

Williams and Aune told police that the toddler had been having health and behavioral problems for months — including struggling to eat solid foods. However, they told police that the girl became unable to keep anything down on Friday, March 26. Williams, who has some training as a CNA, took his other child to the hospital late that night for respiratory problems, while the 2-year-old was put to bed.

Explaining that they thought it could be a stomach bug, the couple reportedly gave the girl anti-nausea medication and put her in a bath with Epsom salt, while Williams purchased some Pepto-Bismol and Tums on Saturday, March 27. However, Williams told police that when he returned home from Walmart around noon with those medications, he found the 2-year-old unable to hold herself up, Det. Sgt. Wead wrote. Williams then took her to Cody Regional Health’s emergency room, where medical providers noticed her many bruises and suspected child abuse. Multiple Cody police officers and a case worker from the Wyoming Department of Family Services were summoned.

Williams was soon questioned about the girl’s injuries at Cody Law Enforcement Center. As he entered the interview room, Williams was talking on his cellphone, and an officer overheard Aune “saying something to the effect of, ‘What are you going to tell them?’”


Multiple explanations

Part of the suspicion of Cody Regional Health personnel came from the fact that the 2-year-old suffered an injury to her clavicle in early March.

Williams told police the collar bone was hurt when the child's 14-month-old brother kicked her as they played, but one officer described that as “nonsense.” Cody Regional Health Dr. John Murray reportedly told police he believed the injury came from an intentional act.

As for a bruise on his daughter’s chin, Williams said Aune told him the child had fallen on a stool and he said the injuries on her back must have come from falling out of her low-lying toddler bed.

Williams said he didn’t know the cause of other injuries and gave inconsistent statements about when and whether he’d noticed them, Wead’s affidavit says.

“I explained to Moshe [Williams] that these were very serious injuries and a reasonable person would recognize them and take her to the hospital,” Wead wrote, adding that Williams “couldn’t provide a plausible explanation on why he didn’t do more about the injuries.”

Williams repeatedly said “he doesn’t hit his kids or beat his kids,” the affidavit says, but mentioned that Aune “is the caretaker when he is at work and he doesn’t know what happens when he’s gone.” Williams said he questioned Aune about the bruises, but she denied abusing the child.

When the detective pointed out the implication that Aune caused the injuries, Williams’ response “was one of frustration,” and he made a comment about Aune “trying to save herself,” Wead wrote.

For her part, Aune did not have an explanation for the bruises either. When she echoed one of Williams’ theories and suggested another child could have injured the toddler while sleepwalking, Officer Mark Martinez stopped her and outlined the seriousness of the case.

“I explained that if [the child] dies, Aune will be held just as accountable for the death as Williams,” Martinez wrote, saying that prompted Aune to begin crying.

“Aune said she did not know what happened, but every time she would ask Williams about the bruises, because the bruises would not be there and then the next time she would see [the child] the bruises would be there,” Martinez wrote.

Pressed later on whether she was saying Williams inflicted the injuries, Aune responded, “I don’t know who else would have done it. Or could have done it.”


'Grave concern'

Cody police decided that the four remaining children in Williams and Aune’s home should be taken into protective custody immediately and the Department of Family Services placed them in temporary foster care.

Meanwhile, the toddler remained hospitalized in Denver, where “the prognosis was not good,” Wead said.

He also said a physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado who specializes in child abuse pediatrics, Dr. Kathi Wells, “expressed grave concern” about the nature of the girl’s injuries. The hospital’s child protection team told Wead that the girl’s bowel had completely separated in two places — causing her inability to keep food down — and appeared to be a result of “severe blunt force trauma to the abdomen.” They felt it was the result of an intentional act and that the child was a victim of abuse.

“Dr. Wells said that [the girl] would have been extremely sick,” Wead wrote, “and a reasonable person with any level of education or parental experience would have recognized and sought medical attention quicker.”

On Tuesday, Williams and Aune asked whether they could travel to Cheyenne, prompting police — who saw criminal charges as “inevitable” — to arrest them Wednesday morning. The aggravated abuse charge followed on Thursday, alleging that they “intentionally or recklessly inflict[ed] serious bodily injury” on the 2-year-old.

Williams and Aune have each been appointed public defenders, with a preliminary hearing tentatively set for April 12.