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Judge binds over woman charged in infant's death

Feb 20, 2012 - By Christina George Staff Writer

Riverton Circuit Judge Wesley Roberts ruled that probable cause exists in the case against a Pavillion woman charged in the November death of her infant son.

After more than an hour of argument made by defense counsel and the prosecution, Roberts took a 24-minute recess Wednesday before he rendered his decision to bind over charges against Candace Lea Wagner to Lander's 9th Judicial Court.

Wagner was arrested Dec. 30, for child abuse and manslaughter, both of which are felonies, and a misdemeanor charge of criminally negligent homicide.

Specifically, she is accused of involuntarily but recklessly killing her 2-month-old baby, Clancy Lee Wagner, Nov. 11, 2011.

It's also alleged that she intentionally or recklessly inflicted physical injury upon a child under 18 years old, and that she caused the infant's death by conduct amounting to criminal negligence.

Clancy was pronounced dead at Riverton Memorial Hospital. The pathologist observed broken blood vessels in the baby's lungs during the autopsy, and the cause of death was ruled as asphyxia.

Wagner posted a $5,000 cash bond and was released from custody after her arrest. At Wednesday's hearing, Roberts continued her bond conditions except for changing mandatory daily alcohol testing to random testing.

Courtroom scene

Before the 100-minute long preliminary hearing, Wagner prayed with someone in the court hallway.

It wasn't until Roberts called the hearing into session that she entered the courtroom. Supporters and others watched the woman as she took her seat next to her defense attorney, Dan Caldwell. At the other table sat Fremont County deputy attorney Patrick LeBrun.

"It really comes down to the ultimate issue of recklessness," LeBrun said.

Authorities say Wagner, who was 34 at the time of the incident, had consumed several alcoholic beverages at a bar.

"There's no evidence to show that this child died because of her actions," Caldwell said. "There's no evidence to show that she's responsible, none."

Testimony

The case's lead investigator, Fremont County Sheriff's Detective Eric Granlund, was the only witness called to the stand during the morning hearing.

The first half hour of his roughly 50-minute testimony involved fielding questions from LeBrun about Granlund's recollection of Nov. 11.

Granlund was on patrol with a trainee when he was notified at about 8:10 a.m. that day of an infant unresponsive at a residence in Pavillion.

"I was informed that there was an infant not breathing that was en route to Riverton," he said.

While responding to the call, Granlund met a passenger vehicle on 8 Mile Road that began flashing the headlights and pulled over.

"I ran to the vehicle," Granlund said.

He took the baby from Wagner, who was sitting in the passenger seat, and began performing CPR on the baby on the tailgate of his deputy pickup truck. Granlund told the court the infant was blue in color and not breathing.

"I made the decision to transfer the infant to the hospital," he said.

Revival efforts

While on the way to Riverton, Granlund said his trainee conducted chest compressions on the infant.

Clancy was pronounced dead at about 8:56 a.m., and Granlund said police interviewed Wagner at least three times while at the hospital.

"At the hospital, she made the statement, 'What did I do to my baby?'" Granlund said.

At some point, Capt. Ryan Lee asked that an alcohol breath test be administered to Wagner. Granlund testified the testing occurred between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Nov. 11, and results indicated Wagner had a blood alcohol level of .064 percent.

A urine sample taken at about 10:40 a.m. showed her blood alcohol level was .1 percent. The legal limit for operating a vehicle in Wyoming is .08 percent.

The investigation

With Wagner's consent, deputies searched her residence located at a ranch on the outskirts of Pavillion. She told them her husband was not home that night, and she and the baby slept in the couple's bed.

"There was vomit on the bed," Granlund said. "Almost (at the) center of the bed."

He said Wagner told deputies she had thrown up the previous night because she had consumed one meal that day and had drunk alcohol in the evening.

In a follow-up interview with Wagner on Dec. 19, Granlund said she told him she had gone out the night of Nov. 10 to Possum Pete's Bar in Pavillion and "consumed a number of alcoholic drinks."

She estimated four or five beers and a couple of shots, Granlund said.

Wagner's son was at a babysitter's at the time. When she went to collect him between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., Granlund said the babysitter had asked Wagner to leave the baby overnight because of her level of intoxication.

"She described Ms. Wagner as being tipsy," Granlund said.

Alcohol a factor

Interviews conducted with bar patrons indicated Wagner had consumed too much alcohol that evening, he said.

When mother and baby arrived home, Granlund said she nursed her son before the two went to bed.

There were no statements made during court proceedings on whether or not the baby had alcohol in his system from being nursed at the time of his death.

Granlund said when Wagner went to change her son's diaper the next morning, she found him not breathing and unresponsive.

"She said when she woke up she wasn't on the baby, and a pillow was not on his head," he testified.

During cross-examination, Caldwell asked Granlund what evidence there was that showed Wagner caused her son's death. Granlund said the autopsy found he died from asphyxia "by overlay or too many blankets."

Caldwell questioned what evidence showed an overlay of blankets caused the infant's death. Granlund responded that he did not have that evidence, but noted there were several heavy blankets on the bed.

Caldwell argued the babysitter reported she didn't see Wagner stumble or fall when leaving the residence with the baby, and autopsy reports did not indicate the baby had suffered any injuries.

Closing statements

LeBrun told the court Wagner had a high alcohol level more than 11 hours after she said she stopped drinking.

"She was still legal-limit drunk, more than legal-limit drunk, point one," he said.

He argued Wagner took her son home despite others urging her not to. He closed by saying Clancy would still be alive if it weren't for his mother's conduct.

Caldwell reiterated his argument that the state does not have evidence that shows Wagner caused the baby's death.

"There's no evidence to show she laid on the baby," he said. "What parent doesn't cover their child with a blanket?"

"It's a guess," Caldwell said on what caused the infant's death. "Judge, this is a tragic, tragic situation."

LeBrun rebutted that Wagner being intoxicated created a "functional equivalent to abandoning" her child.

Wagner will enter her pleas to the charges during an arraignment hearing that has not yet been scheduled. The child abuse and manslaughter charges carry up to 25 years in prison, and the criminally negligent homicide count is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

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