FAYETTEVILLE, WV (WVNS) — Jurors will hear arguments from two forensic pathologists about the Dec. 26, 2018, death of 8-year-old Raylee Browning.
Raylee’s father, Marty Browning Jr., his wife Julie Browning and Julie’s sister, Sherie Titchenell, are standing trial before Fayette County Circuit Court Judge Paul Blake on June 6. All are charged with death of a child by a parent, guardian, or custodian and child neglect resulting in death. They were arrested in December 2019.
Blake made the ruling on Wednesday, after hearing pre-trial arguments from special prosecutor Brian Parsons and from the team of defense attorneys, Steve Mancini, Mark Plants and Evan Dove. The three defendants are going to trial together, but each has a court-appointed attorney. Mancini represents Raylee’s father. Julie is represented by Plant, and Dove represents Sherie.
Parsons was appointed to the case in December 2020. Special Prosecutor Parsons asked the court on Wednesday not to permit Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, to testify to jurors on some of the questions that Wecht had answered in a report. Wecht is paid by the state as an expert witness for the defense. Parsons said Wecht is not qualified to answer questions related to pediatric care or CPS investigations. Blake said that he will consider objections to testimony during the trial, before jurors.
In 2019, West Virginia Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Allen Mock had reviewed Child Protective Services records and Raylee’s medical records and ruled he could not determine her manner of death. Wecht reviewed the same records and determined that Raylee had died of natural causes. Both pathologists agreed that Raylee had died of complications related to pneumonia. A child abuse expert in the case, Dr. Joan Phillips, is expected to testify that records show Raylee was receiving medication she did not need and that she had been a victim of abuse, prior to her death.
Raylee died at Plateau Medical Center on Dec. 28, 2018. Raylee’s gym teacher at her Nicholas County elementary school suggested earlier this year in a court hearing that Nicholas Child Protective Services (CPS) workers did not accurately record her statements in official documents, when she reported that Raylee showed signs of child abuse. She criticized the CPS response to teachers’ concerns about alleged abuse.
Nicholas CPS Supervisor Joe Sorrent retired from his position on Dec. 29, 2018, but later was rehired as a CPS worker, WVDHHR officials reported. A lawsuit filed by Raylee’s mother in federal court accused CPS of falsifying and hiding Raylee’s CPS records and violating her civil rights by forcing her to live in a situation that resulted in her abuse. A federal court judge dismissed the case. The judge ruled Wriston could bring another suit against Sorrent but not against West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR).
Raylee’s mother, Janice Wriston of Scarbro, said that CPS ignored her repeated reports of sexual and physical abuse of the girl and did not properly investigate belt marks that were left on Raylee’s back. Mancini said in the Wednesday hearing that Nicholas CPS records could help the defendants and that they have not been provided to Mancini by Parsons. Parsons denied the accusation that he withheld evidence.
“I don’t know how he’s come to believe that its exculpatory if he doesn’t have it,” noted Parsons. “I absolutely refute and deny that I’ve received any information (from CPS) and kept it from these lawyers.”Parsons added the allegation is “illegal” and “offensive.”
Blake told Mancini he entered an order for CPS to disclose all records of Raylee and the family to the court. He chided Mancini and directed him to ask CPS for the records, if CPS has not complied with the court order.
“I don’t want this to develop into a matter of hostility between clients,” said Blake. “I’m not going to tolerate that.” Mancini said he was not accusing Parsons but the prosecutors prior to Parsons.
Parsons was appointed to the case after one Fayette prosecutor left the office and a second one removed himself due to a conflict of interest. Dove said a Nicholas CPS worker told him that there are videos of Raylee and a CPS worker which he says are exculpatory, or favorable, to the defense. He said he anticipated getting those records by the end of the day.
One of Julie’s children, who lived with the three adults, reported that Sherie was the main caregiver for the children. She said the adults made Raylee wear a diaper and forced her to sleep on the floor and then a mattress on the floor because she wet the bed. The girl reported that the adults starved Raylee and did not allow her to drink water as a punishment. She said that Raylee was withdrawn from school when teachers started making CPS reports and that Sherie forced Raylee to run up stairs and stand in the hallway for long periods of time, while Julie’s children and another homeschool family studied. A gym teacher testified earlier this year that Sherie ordered teachers not to feed Raylee, who was a kindergarten student, while she was at school. The teacher said teachers ignored the advice because Raylee begged for food and had become very thin.
The family moved to Oak Hill in January 2018. Fayette officials reported that WVDHHR officials had initially denied Oak Hill Police Department Cpl. James Pack, who led the investigation, the CPS records. He received partial records a year after her death, Fayette officials said.
Parsons said Wednesday that he has offered a plea to Julie. The plea expires Wednesday evening, June 1, 2022. Browning turned down a plea offer last year, Parsons reported. Parsons has not offered a plea deal to Sherie, he said.