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State v. Warwick

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Preble

January 16, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CHRISTY LYNN WARWICK, Defendant-Appellant.


          Martin P. Votel, Preble County Court of Common Pleas, Valerie Sargent-Wood, Preble County Courthouse, 101 East Main Street, Eaton, Ohio 45320, for plaintiff-appellee

          Muenchenbach Law Office, LLC, Brian A. Muenchenbach, 309 North Barron Street, Eaton, Ohio 45320, for defendant-appellant


          HENDRICKSON, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Christy Lynn Warwick, appeals from the sentence she received in the Preble County Court of Common Pleas following her guilty plea to endangering children and involuntary manslaughter. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm her sentence.

         {¶ 2} In May 2016, appellant was arrested and indicted on one count of endangering children in violation of R.C. 2919.22(A), a felony of the third degree, and one count of involuntary manslaughter in violation of R.C. 2903.04(A), a felony of the first degree. The charges arose out of the death of appellant's infant son, Sylas, who was 21 months old at the time of his death on December 14, 2015.

         {¶ 3} Sylas was born drug dependent in February 2014, as a result of appellant's ongoing drug abuse. At the time of his birth, Sylas was removed from appellant's care by Children Services and placed in a foster home. In May 2015, Sylas was returned to appellant's care, and in September 2015, Children Services closed its case involving Sylas and appellant. Less than three months later, on December 13, 2015, Sylas was transported by an ambulance to a Preble County emergency room after appellant called 9-1-1 upon finding Sylas unresponsive in her home. Sylas was then careflighted to Dayton Children's Hospital, where he was determined to be nonresponsive and in a vegetative state. He was malnourished, had significant head trauma, and his body was covered with bruises and burn marks. Sylas died shortly after being admitted to Dayton Children's Hospital.

         {¶ 4} On October 24, 2016, appellant pled guilty as charged to child endangering and involuntary manslaughter. The trial court accepted appellant's plea, set the matter for sentencing, and ordered that a presentence investigation report ("PSI") be prepared.

         {¶ 5} Appellant appeared for sentencing on November 30, 2016. To provide some context for the court as to the nature and severity of appellant's crimes, the state called Dr. Lori Vavul-Roediger, the medical director for the Department of Child Advocacy at Dayton Children's Hospital. Dr. Vavul-Roediger had performed a medical evaluation on Sylas on December 13, 2015, and rendered an expert opinion as to the cause and nature of Sylas' injuries. Dr. Vavul-Roediger wrote a report detailing her findings, and this report was provided to the trial court.

         {¶ 6} Dr. Vavul-Roediger testified that Sylas arrived at the hospital malnourished and weighing only 9.8 kilograms, or 21.6 pounds. Sylas had extensive injuries to his mouth, as he was missing a central incisor, his upper gum line was open and had a clot of blood, and his lower lip and gum line were injured and oozing blood. Dr. Vavul-Roediger opined that the oral injuries were caused by a "very violent, forceful, blunt trauma to the child's oral cavity." Sylas also had significant head trauma, including an acute subdural hemorrhage and extensive cerebral swelling, which Dr. Vavul-Roediger opined resulted from multiple blows to his head. Dr. Vavul-Roediger also observed bruising to Sylas' ears, forehead, jaw, chin, back, legs, and arms, as well as healing or healed burn marks to Sylas' back and his scrotum. Skeletal x-rays showed healing and acute fractures to Sylas' jaw, collarbone, and ribs and compressive injuries to his spinal column.

         {¶ 7} Dr. Vavul-Roediger spoke with appellant after examining Sylas. Appellant told Dr. Vavul-Roediger that Sylas had not seen a doctor since April 2015. Appellant informed Dr. Vavul-Roediger that Sylas had harmed himself by banging his head on various objects. Appellant also commented that Sylas had become thinner recently, but appellant attributed this to Sylas growing taller. Appellant stated Sylas ate all the time and had to be stopped from over eating as he would eat until he vomited.

         {¶ 8} Appellant informed Dr. Vavul-Roediger that she made three videos of Sylas on her cellphone on December 6, 2015 to show the injuries Sylas had inflicted on himself. These videos were played at the sentencing hearing. After viewing the videos, Dr. Vavul-Roediger testified that Sylas "appear[ed] malnourished * * * appear[ed] to be clearly acutely distressed * * * [and] clearly non-responsive to the adult who [was] taping and continue[d] to tape while he [stood], essentially, motionless and crie[d]." Dr. Vavul-Roediger stated Sylas' injuries were "extremely" and "exorbitantly" uncommon of injuries sustained from self-induced "head-banging." Rather, given the severity and type of injuries Sylas experienced, Dr. Vavul-Roediger opined that Sylas was "unfortunately, physically abused and died as a result of the physical maltreatment he sustained."

         {¶ 9} In addition to Dr. Vavul-Roediger's testimony, and the three December 6, 2015 videos taken from appellant's phone, the state also introduced a video of Sylas that was taken by his former foster parents. The video depicted a healthy 11-month-old Sylas. Following the presentation of this video, the state asked the trial court to impose maximum, consecutive sentences on appellant.

         {¶ 10} Appellant declined the opportunity to speak at sentencing, but defense counsel spoke on her behalf. Defense counsel noted appellant had substance abuse issues and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and an adjustment disorder with depressive mood. Defense counsel stated that although appellant denied intentionally harming Sylas, she took responsibility for her recklessness in caring for her son and was "deeply remorseful" that she did not provide or seek better care for Sylas.

         {¶ 11} After considering the information presented at the sentencing hearing, sentencing memoranda prepared by the parties, a letter submitted by appellant's daughter, and the PSI, the trial court determined that the presumption of a prison term had not been overcome. The court sentenced appellant to a nine-year prison term on the involuntary manslaughter charge, which was run concurrently to a three-year prison term on the endangering children charge.

         {¶ 12} Appellant appealed her sentence, raising two ...

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