A jury trial was held this week for two people involved in an accident that left a 4-year-old with a partial arm amputation.
The two adults were mowing grass on zero-turn lawn mowers May 26 at the dead-end of Ely Street in Washington Court House. Reports state the child was riding on one of the mowers.
“The child fell off of the left side of the mower when it was turning right, at which time he suffered the injury to his right arm,” Washington Police Department Sgt. Matt Pfeifer said after the accident.
The adults, Bret A. Henry, 48, and Jason Sigman, 48, both of Jeffersonville, were charged with child endangering.
Trial over the matter began Tuesday in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas and continued the following day.
Wednesday evening, a Fayette County jury found Sigman guilty of child endangering. The charge is a third-degree felony. Sigman is scheduled to be sentenced on the charge Dec. 27.
The child was a ward of the state, and a Fayette County Children Services report states “Jason was not to be around (the child).”
Children Services had granted temporary custody to Henry, and his wife, Susan, who are uncle and aunt to the child, according to reports.
The jury was hung when attempting to reach a verdict on Henry’s charge.
Court records show that days before the trial, Henry’s attorney, Lori A. Rankin of Chillicothe, filed a motion to make the state respond specifically to the defense’s request for a bill of particulars. The memorandum of support states that the state filed a bill of particulars that “merely re-states the language in the indictment and completely fails to respond to the Defendant’s specific requests set for in the Defendant’s Request for a Bill of Particulars.”
Further, the memorandum states, “Neither the Indictment nor the Bill of Particulars — despite Mr. Henry’s specific request — set forth the conduct that Mr. Henry is alleged to have engaged in that would constitute the specific nature of the charge,” and says that without such information, Henry “will be deprived of due process of law and a fair trial.”
In the defense’s proposed instructions to the jury, it states, “The evidence that the State intends to present may rise to a level of negligence, but not recklessness.”
The Ohio Supreme Court has clarified and set the precedent in all Ohio courts that recklessness is the requisite mental state in a child endangering case.
Child endangering has been discussed throughout Ohio’s history in case law, as well. While the state must prove their case under statute that the defendant acted recklessly, prior case decisions clarify what recklessness means.
For example, in the Ohio case of State v. Massey (1998), recklessness is defined as: “[a] person acts recklessly when, with heedless indifference to the consequences, he perversely disregards a known risk that his conduct is likely to cause a certain result or is likely to be of a certain nature.”
In the case of State v. Martin (1999) the First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned a child endangering conviction, citing State v. Bennett (1995), “While the appellant’s actions may have been imprudent or even negligent, we cannot say that…appellant perversely disregarded a known risk or acted with heedless indifference to the consequences. We, as a society, cannot punish parents for every error in judgment, even if a child is injured, under a theory of strict liability.”
The example from the First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati would not set the precedent for cases in Fayette County, though it may be considered.
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