Judge moves Cody murder trial to Hot Springs County

Posted 9/26/23

Concerned that extensive media coverage of the case could make it hard to find impartial jurors in Park County, a judge has moved a Cody man’s murder trial to Hot Springs County.

Moshe …

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Judge moves Cody murder trial to Hot Springs County


Concerned that extensive media coverage of the case could make it hard to find impartial jurors in Park County, a judge has moved a Cody man’s murder trial to Hot Springs County.

Moshe Williams, 33, faces a charge of first-degree murder in connection with the 2021 death of his 2-year-old daughter, Paisleigh. Prosecutors allege Williams caused his daughter’s death by abusing her; medical experts concluded that the child died from a forceful blow to her abdomen and her caretakers’ failure to get her to a hospital.

A Park County jury convicted Williams’ then-girlfriend, Carolyn Aune, of first-degree murder in April. They rejected prosecutors’ contention that Aune inflicted the fatal blow, but found she had failed to get Paisleigh the medical attention she needed. Aune — who is scheduled to be sentenced today (Tuesday) — testified that she saw Williams “stomp” on the child’s stomach, but had no idea she was seriously injured. Aune has continued to assert her innocence and has asked for a new trial or acquittal.

Williams’ trial, which is set for next month in Thermopolis, will involve many of the same witnesses and evidence as Aune’s case. In moving it to Hot Springs County, presiding District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield indicated that she didn’t want to wait until the jury selection process to learn whether an impartial panel could be found in Park County.

If a jury couldn’t be seated, Overfield said the delay could create “a substantial hardship” for multiple witnesses that are coming from out-of-state and would have to change their travel plans. Further, with Williams’ case pending for more than two years, “the court really does not want to have to move this trial from Oct. 30 for any reason whatsoever,” she said at a Wednesday hearing.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Hatfield previously told the court that he believed the parties would reach a plea deal, but the sides are now proceeding toward a trial.

The case against Aune and Williams has received a substantial amount of publicity, with stories carried in more than two dozen news outlets, Williams’ attorneys said. In an August motion seeking a change in venue, the defense attorneys opined that the odds of finding 14 people in Park County who weren’t aware of the case was “slim at best.”

“Mr. Williams’ ability to get a fair trial is somewhat hampered by the publicity that has gone on up in Park County at this time,” Dylan Rosalez argued at Wednesday’s hearing.

Hatfield agreed there’s been extensive news coverage, and he’d previously argued it would be difficult to seat another jury in Park County regarding the allegations. However, the prosecutor said he’d been surprised by how easy it was to find 12 unbiased jurors and two alternates to hear Aune’s case in April.

“Even with as much press coverage as there is, I think … how quickly we seated the jury is a pretty good indicator that people just are not paying attention to things as much as they were [in the past],” Hatfield said.

He supported surveying potential jurors on their knowledge of and opinions about the case, but “I think we can seat a jury in Park County,” he said.

However, Overfield noted that Aune’s trial received substantial, additional coverage — and she guessed Aune’s sentencing will also receive attention. Beyond the articles from news outlets, she referenced the unknown number of social media postings and discussion about the allegations.

“The opinions of the public in this particular case are emotional and likely inflamed by the facts of the case,” Overfield said, noting it involves the death of a small child.

Overfield said there wasn’t one particular factor that prompted the move, but the combination of several. She specifically mentioned the publicity and the costs and delay that would result if a jury couldn’t be seated at the time of the trial. The combined factors, she said, “would create a prejudice for Mr. Williams and potentially the state.”

Overfield added that many of the Wyoming Supreme Court’s past decisions on pretrial publicity and changes of venue are “somewhat antiquated,” as they predate widespread internet access.

Wyoming’s rules of criminal procedure say a trial should only be moved if the court believes there’s “so great a prejudice against the defendant that the defendant cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial in that county.”

Two weeks have been set aside for Williams’ trial; Aune’s took nearly that long due to some stops and starts to accommodate witnesses, but Hatfield indicated that Williams’ could be completed in closer to a week.

“This is kind of a do over,” the prosecutor said, “and if it is basically a do over, it should go a lot quicker …”

The first-degree murder charge filed against Aune and Williams alleges that they killed Paisleigh while committing child abuse. With prosecutors not seeking the death penalty, a conviction is punishable by either life in prison pursuant to law or life in prison without the possibility of parole.