A judge has determined there is sufficient evidence to send to trial the case of a woman charged with the choking murder of her boyfriend’s 3-year-old son, reports the Altoona Mirror.
Charges have been bound over for the next court date for 31-year-old Chelsea Renae Cooley, who faces one felony count each of endangering the welfare of children, of aggravated assault with extreme indifference, of aggravated assault-victim less than 6 and defendant 18 or older and of strangulation, and one misdemeanor count each of recklessly endangering another person and simple assault, says the Mirror.
UPMC Bedford emergency physician Dr. Ryan Wetzel testified during the preliminary trial on Wednesday, describing the night on May 28, when a child was brought in at around 9 p.m., the Mirror says. Along with four other medical professionals, he began resuscitation efforts on the child with ongoing CPR, putting in IV, using epinephrine to restart the heart, and trying to open the airway, the Mirror explains.
While intubating the child, Wetzel said he found “four or five” wet wipes “packed very tightly” down the child’s throat, adding that they were so shoved in he had to “physically pull them apart,” the Mirror says.
Wetzel explained that despite having the child’s airway open within five minutes and bringing back a pulse within three to four minutes, the child remained bluish-purple in color and lacked some reflexes, the Mirror says.
He also discovered tiny round spots as a result of broken blood vessels (petechiae) on the child’s neck and mouth, an indicator of asphyxiation, he added, according to the Mirror. Wetzel stated that it would be difficult for a 3-year-old to get that “level of impaction,” the Mirror says.
Wetzel explained that 9.75 inch forceps had been used to extract the wipes, yet the average length of a child’s arm is eight inches, the Mirror says.
He said the child was “filthy”, with feces on his hands and feet yet his clothes were clean, according to the Mirror.
Wetzel ordered a CT scan of the child’s brain after an airway was established, which he called “concerning,” as the brain swelled while oxygen returned to it, which ultimately killed the child, the Mirror says, adding that the child was alive when transported to the hospital by helicopter.
Cooley’s neighbor also testified during Wednesday’s hearing, and explained that he was sitting on the back patio at around 8:05 p.m. on May 28 when he heard “hollering and screaming” from Cooley’s home, the Mirror says. The neighbor claimed to remember the exact time because he asked his son, who was going home, what time it was, the Mirror says.
He heard an adult female voice yelling “for everybody to shut up” from 40 or 50 feet away, followed by silence, and the ambulance arrived 45 minutes later, the Mirror says.
Raystown Ambulance paramedic Jason Bryant’s testimony revealed he answered a call for a cardiac patient who was choking, which came in shortly after 9 p.m. on May 28, and upon arriving at the residence, observed Cooley performing CPR on the child, the Mirror says.
He noted wet wipes on the bed, checked the child for a pulse, and carried him to the ambulance upon finding there was none, the Mirror says.
The paramedics also used forceps to remove multiple wet wipes from the child’s throat, he testified, according to the Mirror.
UPMC Bedford called the Bedford Criminal Investigative Unit, to which Pennsylvania State Trooper Nickolas Luciano responded, the Mirror says, where he observed the child, then interviewed Cooley, the child’s father, and Wetzel.
The child’s father had been at work during the incident, and Cooley had to call him at his workplace to notify him of what happened, as he wasn’t near his cell phone, Luciano testified.
The father, upon leaving work, discovered a Snapchat sent at 8:41 p.m. by Cooley of a photo of the boy lying on the floor, with a message that said “he needs to stop doing this to himself”, the Mirror says.
Cooley told Luciano that the only people home at the time were her, her 11-year-old daughter, her daughter’s friend, the child and his one-year-old brother, the Mirror says.
Cooley allegedly told Luciano that the boy constantly misbehaved, and he refused to eat his lunch or dinner that day, which started an argument between Cooley and the child, the Mirror says. Cooley said she sent the boy to bed at 7:30 p.m., and found him unresponsive when she checked on him at 8:30, the Mirror adds, after which Cooley called 911.
However, when Luciano obtained a copy of that 911 call, he discovered that the call had actually been made at 9:07 p.m., 35 minutes after Cooley’s claim, and about 25 minutes after the father received the photo on Snapchat, the Mirror reports.
WTAJ reported back in June that Cooley told police her phone sometimes failed to make calls.
Cooley also allegedly changed her story several times, according to a Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) report, telling police she found him in the bathroom, instead of his bedroom when she checked on him, and that he grabbed his throat before falling to the floor.
Cooley told the 911 operator that she wanted to put gloves on before checking the boy’s throat, as she didn’t know what was on the wipes, then told the operator that the child was unresponsive, blue and cold to the touch, the Mirror says.
Dr. Jennifer Clark had treated the child at the UPMC Children’s Hospital previously, and provided Luciano with photos that revealed extensive bruising on the child’s arms, and in her professional opinion, the boy could not have done it to himself, the Mirror says.
The PSP report lists the child’s cause of death as manual strangulation and asphyxiation, and the manner, homicide.
Luciano conducted interviews with Cooley’s daughter and her friend, as Cooley claimed the girls had seen the boy with the wet wipes, yet the girls confirmed they hadn’t seen the boy at all, the Mirror says.
Luciano reinterviewed the child’s father on May 31, which confirmed that Cooley was the child’s primary caregiver and that she’d complained about the child’s supposed behavioral issues, wishing to send him to a home, the Mirror says. Luciano added that the child had been evaluated for behavioral issues, but the results were not disclosed, the Mirror says.
No one else gave details about his behavior problems, Luciano said, also stating that Cooley’s form of discipline was to strap the child into his high chair for hours at a time, leaving him in front of the TV, the Mirror says.
Cooley’s attorney Thomas M. Dickey closed out the defense argument by pointing out that much of the evidence against his client is “hearsay”, and frequently objected during witness testimony, the Mirror reports.
Dickey claimed that Luciano’s testimony was only hearsay, since he was repeating what the doctors supposedly said, yet Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts argued that Luciano had attended the autopsy and saw the child’s injuries with his own eyes, the Mirror says.
Cooley was denied bail once again, the Mirror says.