For role in toddler’s death, Cody woman receives life sentence

Plans to appeal her conviction

Posted 9/28/23

Two starkly different views of Carolyn Aune were laid out at a sentencing hearing in Park County District Court on Tuesday, with the 30-year-old alternately painted as a victim or a monster.

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For role in toddler’s death, Cody woman receives life sentence

Plans to appeal her conviction


Two starkly different views of Carolyn Aune were laid out at a sentencing hearing in Park County District Court on Tuesday, with the 30-year-old alternately painted as a victim or a monster.

Aune was convicted of first-degree murder in April; a Park County jury found she caused the 2021 death of 2-year-old Paisleigh Williams — the daughter of her then-boyfriend — by failing to get the injured child needed medical attention.

However, Aune continues to contend that it was Paisleigh’s father, Moshe Williams, who abused the child and kept the toddler’s injuries from her.

“There’s a lot of things that I wish I would have done differently, but I’m not a monster,” Aune told the court Tuesday. “I did not hurt Paisleigh and if I would have known that this is the outcome, and that she wouldn’t be here, I would’ve done more. And I’m sorry that this is what happened.”

She added later that, “It’s not justice to send the wrong person away just because of how people feel about me.”

However, jurors had rejected Aune’s contentions with their guilty verdict. On Tuesday, Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield called Aune’s version of events “ridiculous,” saying she must have known the girl was injured. He asked presiding District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield to send a message and sentence Aune to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Leaving her [Paisleigh] in agony for hours and hours and hours and doing nothing, that can never be tolerated in society,” Hatfield argued.

Overfield ultimately chose the lesser sentence on the table — that of life in prison pursuant to law. It means Aune could be paroled with a commutation from the governor, instead of needing a rarer pardon.

As the parties debated the appropriate sentence, a number of memories of Paisleigh adorned the courtroom, including a photo collage of her life and a purple urn containing her cremains. At the tail end of the three-hour hearing, Overfield noted she couldn’t fix that loss.

“There is no remedying that. There is no sentence this court can impose that resolves that. There is no amount of money that will resolve that,” she said. “There is no way that child is coming back.”


Uncertain events

Medical experts determined that Paisleigh suffered some kind of forceful blow that severed her intestines in the hours or days before her father brought her to Cody Regional Health’s Emergency Room. Exactly who inflicted that trauma has been a mystery for investigators; in interviews with police at the time, Aune and Williams pointed fingers at one another but said they didn’t know what had happened to Paisleigh.

However, Aune changed her story at trial, testifying that she witnessed Williams — who faces a separate trial for first-degree murder next month — stomp on Paisleigh’s stomach the night before she was taken to the hospital. However, Aune said Paisleigh never cried and seemed fine.

Hatfield countered Tuesday that, “No reasonable person would ever think that that is an acceptable response to what she says she saw.”

At trial, he contended Aune had actually been the one to hurt Paisleigh, but jurors rejected that allegation, acquitting Aune of intentionally inflicting injuries to Paisleigh. They instead found that Aune’s failure to seek medical care had “recklessly inflicted” injury to the child; medical experts said the toddler’s life could have been saved with more rapid medical attention.

The child’s mother, Rebecca Holtsman, said Aune had failed Paisleigh.

“You did nothing to save her life,” she said in a statement, noting the toddler had suffered other injuries — including a broken clavicle — in the weeks before her death.

“She must have felt like nobody loved her and probably felt like she wasn’t wanted,” Rebecca Holtsman wrote.

Paisleigh’s grandmother, Colleen Holtsman, similarly said that the family had trusted Aune.

“You’ve shown yourself as a sweet girl in front of people, but your true character is that of a monster,” she said. While acknowledging she didn’t have proof that Aune dealt the fatal blow, “I know you did this,” Colleen Holtsman said, saying she’d never seen that kind of behavior from Williams.

Both Holtsmans asked the judge to impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.


Preparing for an appeal

Aune continued to insist that she had never hurt Paisleigh and didn’t know she was seriously hurt.

“It’s easy for people to say any reasonable person would have known, but they weren’t there. They really don’t know,” Aune said.

Her attorney, Elisabeth Trefonas, argued Aune was a victim of domestic violence and didn’t think she’d get help from police based on past experience.

“Every day they [victims of domestic violence] think, it’s not that bad,” Trefonas said, adding that, “There’s a wish everything’s going to be OK.”

She added that Aune was “born into a life of chaos,” suffering years of serious abuse as a child and later being physically abused by a former husband.

Trefonas also asked the judge to either acquit her client or order a new trial. She argued the state had misconstrued the definition of “recklessly inflicting” and improperly vouched for several witnesses. She also suggested that, based on their reactions, there were “at least three [jurors] … that I don’t believe that [guilty] really was their verdict.”

While Aune had wanted her trial to be separated from Williams’, Trefonas said Aune would now be “happy” to be re-tried alongside him next month. Overfield, however, generally said those questions should be addressed on appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Aune has offered to testify against Williams, though Trefonas indicated that it’s unclear whether the state will call her.

Aune also received an overlapping three- to five-year sentence for an altercation in jail, in which she reportedly pushed, shoved and kicked Park County detention deputies in December 2021. During the encounter, Aune reportedly said she would “f— us pigs up,” one deputy recounted in an affidavit.

Although it’s not a legal defense for inmates, Trefonas suggested it was a case of self-defense, saying the deputies had rushed at Aune after she was “mouthy.”


Devastation and loss

In their victim impact statements to the court, the Holtsmans spoke to the hole that Paisleigh’s absence has left in their lives.

“Her death has devastated our family,” Colleen Holtsman said, noting the many things her granddaughter will never be able to do.

Rebecca Holtsman said a part of her died along with Paisleigh. She said she wishes she could see her daughter’s face, hear her voice and hug her again.

“I can’t go a day without thinking about my sweet Paisleigh,” Rebecca Holtsman said, saying she likes to picture her daughter walking with Jesus.

Aune told the family members that she’s sorry for the heartache and grief they’re going through.

“Just know that I’m going through that, too,” she said. 

Aune also apologized to Paisleigh and then to her own children, saying they’re why she’ll keep fighting for her freedom.