Judge orders separate trials in connection with Cody toddler’s death

Posted 1/26/23

Citing unresolved questions about the competency of one defendant, a judge has ordered separate trials for a Cody couple who are accused of killing a toddler in 2021. The first trial could begin as …

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Judge orders separate trials in connection with Cody toddler’s death

Moshe Williams and Carolyn Aune
Moshe Williams and Carolyn Aune

Citing unresolved questions about the competency of one defendant, a judge has ordered separate trials for a Cody couple who are accused of killing a toddler in 2021. The first trial could begin as soon as March.

Park County prosecutors have charged Carolyn Aune and Moshe Williams with first-degree murder, alleging they intentionally or recklessly inflicted fatal injuries to Williams’ 2-year-old daughter, Paisleigh, in March 2021. Aune and Williams have each pleaded not guilty.

Authorities allege the toddler had been physically abused over a period of months, culminating in some kind of forceful blow to her abdominal area that severed her bowels and caused her death. Medical experts have said the girl’s caretakers were too slow to seek medical attention.

Prosecutors had charged Aune and Williams jointly, but on Monday, District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield split the case in two.

Aune’s court-appointed attorney, Elisabeth M.W. Trefonas of Jackson, argued that it would prejudice her client to be tried alongside Williams and that it no longer makes sense to have a joint trial. While the proceedings will involve many of the same witnesses, events and medical experts, Trefonas noted that concerns about Williams’ competency have stalled proceedings since August.

“You’ve got two defendants in this sort of limbo until evaluations are done, and Ms. Aune is ready to move forward,” Trefonas said.

In separating the defendants, Judge Overfield indicated she wants to ensure Aune’s right to a speedy trial is upheld.

“The court believes that the best way to allow this matter to move forward and to avoid prejudice to Ms. Aune’s rights is to grant the motion to sever and to move forward with a trial for Ms. Aune,” Overfield said. She suggested a start date of March 27 or April 17, with Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield suggesting the trial will take two weeks.

Hatfield opposed severing the cases, arguing in part that the mental
evaluations of Williams may be “almost done.”

An initial evaluation found Williams competent, but the defense has requested a second opinion. One of Williams’ court-appointed attorneys, Dylan Rosalez, said his client is set to undergo an evaluation in early February with a report potentially completed by March 1.

If Williams’ competency is confirmed by the second expert, Hatfield indicated that he’ll seek to rejoin the two cases. However, if that examiner concludes that Williams is incompetent, it could delay or even end the case.

“We may be getting close to the end of that, but that is unknown at this point in time,” Judge Overfield noted.

Another unknown in the case has been what exactly happened to Paisleigh Williams. Hatfield wrote in a July filing that, “The key question in this prosecution is identity, or who is responsible? Which defendant(s) physically abused [Paisleigh]?”

The forensic pathologist in Adams County, Colorado, who performed an autopsy of the toddler found she had suffered a series of broken bones, bruises and other injuries in the months leading up to her death, attributing many to blunt force trauma. But it’s been unclear how the child suffered those injuries and the blow that eventually caused her death.

Williams and Aune reportedly told Cody police that they did not abuse the child and offered various theories as to how she might have been injured — including casting suspicion on one another.

“Both defendants claim to have questioned the other about suspicious bruises, red marks, lumps and bumps,” Hatfield wrote in the July filing, “though both defendants stood by and denied knowledge of the source of these injuries as her condition rapidly deteriorated.”

The prosecutor specifically accused Aune of a “pattern of abusive conduct,” writing that evidence will show she experienced “growing frustration as she struggle[d] to care for four children while defendant Williams [was] at work.”

Trefonas, who represents Aune, said in court on Monday that she knows the state “has a certain belief as to the involvement of my client.”

Both defendants have been held in the Park County Detention Center since their arrests in early April 2021.

Aune allegedly fought with detention deputies in December 2021, leading to additional felony charges that she’s also denied. That trial will take place following the others. In requesting separate trials on the murder charge, Trefonas expressed concern that Hatfield may seek to introduce evidence related to the altercation in the jail, “in an effort to show that Ms. Aune is the aggressor, the primary aggressor, the primary responsible party for this young child’s death.”

“I just don’t see how he wouldn’t be bringing that in, quite frankly,” the defense attorney said.

Hatfield said he didn’t believe the evidence of the jail assault could be brought into the murder case. However, Williams’s attorneys have already said they believe it’s “material and relevant” to his defense, showing Aune’s “lack of accident, knowledge and course of conduct to commit batteries and assault.”

Williams’ case remains on hold, but both the state and Aune’s defense attorney said they’re ready for a trial. As of Wednesday, a firm trial date had not yet been set.