WV Supreme Court hears Chic-Colbert case - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV Supreme Court hears Chic-Colbert case

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Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Supreme Court.
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Did a man convicted of beating his girlfriend in the middle of the interstate and neglecting his 11-year old child who was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle, voluntarily accept a supervisor role over the child's two friends, who were in the car at the time of the occurrence?

Did the jury convict him on a different charge than listed in the indictment?

These were the two main questions attorneys representing Ethan Chic-Colbert asked when they presented their case to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

In their July 2012 verdict, a Kanawha County jury found Chic-Colbert guilty of domestic battery, child neglect by a parent, guardian or custodian resulting in the death of a child and gross child neglect creating the risk of serious bodily injury or death.

Kanawha County prosecutors asserted Chic-Colbert pulled his girlfriend Lynitrah Woodson out of the car and punched her with both fists.

In his testimony, Chic-Colbert said Woodson grabbed him as he tried to get out of the car and said the fight continued in the middle of the road. He testified that to make her stop, he slammed her head against the ground.

Woodson's 11-year-old son, Jahlil Clements, ran from the car across two lanes of traffic to try to flag down motorists. Clements was struck by an oncoming vehicle.

Woody Hill, who represented Chic-Colbert before the state's highest court, argued Chic-Colbert received an illegal sentence because the jury convicted Chic-Colbert on a charge not listed in the indictment.

Hill asserted the jury was adequately instructed on the lesser charge but instead convicted Chic-Colbert on the higher offense.

"The prosecution messed up this case," Hill said.

Assistant Attorney General Scott E. Johnson argued that it wasn't until the charge was submitted to the jury and they started deliberation that attorneys brought up this issue.

Hill also asserted there was not enough evidence to support the charge of gross child neglect because he said evidence did not support that Chic-Colbert voluntarily accepted a supervisor role toward Clement's friends.

Hill said Chic-Colbert only accepted responsible over Clements and his 2-year-old son.

"The evidence shows that the two other children were strangers," Hill told justices. "A person has to voluntarily accept supervisory role to be charged with child neglect."

Justice Margaret Workman asked if the law could be interpreted liberally regarding custody. Hill answered the state cited 40 cases in its brief to the court, which dealt with parents and teachers who he asserts took an affirmative action to be a supervisor.

Workman asked if Chic-Colbert lived with Woodson.  Hill answered that Chic-Colbert spent time at the house but said there was a "gap in the record" to prove that he was supervising the friends.

"The only evidence is when Woodson responded to questions from the prosecutor that he helped keep an eye on them from time to time," Hill said.

Chief Justice Brent Benjamin asked if attorneys objected at the time and Hill said attorneys did not.

"So, he was supervising his biological child but no one else?" Benjamin asked.

Hill answered that Chic-Colbert was only watching his biological child, later saying Woodson agreed to take the children with her, so she would be the supervisor.

Johnson argued Chic-Colbert spent a few nights in Woodson's house, supervising Clements, his infant son and one of Clement's friends, who spent the night at the house. Johnson also asserted the definition of custodian is broad.