Napier convicted of manslaughter and child abuse
Jason Napier, right, listens to a prosecution witness with his trial counsel team of Ted Shouse, center, and Steve Romines. Napier was convicted Thursday of second degree manslaughter and second degree child abuse and faces consecutive ten and five year sentences for those charges respectively.
The jury was out about two hours when the three day trial concluded, returning guilty convictions for second degree manslaughter and second degree child abuse, not the murder conviction that Commonwealth's Attorney David Dalton was hoping for.
Noble was a disaster for the prosecution. The defense made hay out of three aspects of Noble's testimony that they carried through to their closing. Romines punched holes in Noble's account of the day as she told it to different officials from personnel at the Fort Logan Emergency Room and later investigators. Noble told them all that after a day at the beach she went to Walmart to by Knox ice cream and left him behind because he was “screaming and carrying on.” As she was leaving, she said in many accounts, including the sworn proffer that secured her 15-year sentence for complicity instead of a murder charge, Knox followed her out of the trailer and fell down four stairs, striking his head on cement. Under oath, Noble said that Knox fell down one step and acknowledged that there is no cement within 12 feet of the stairs.
The defense pressed an alternately crying and combative Noble about her deal with the commonwealth, ultimately getting her to admit that she hadn't mentioned her account of Napier confessing his guilt to her the night Knox was hospitalized and later attempting suicide.
Finally, the defense seized on what was called a “lucid interval,” or a short period of awareness that someone who suffers a head injury might have before succumbing to it. Noble said repeatedly that after Knox fell he was fine, got right up and she'd returned him to the house and into Napier's care. The defense was able to get the four doctors who testified in the case to admit, that however unlikely it was, Knox might have been in a lucid interval when Noble put him back in the trailer.
Former Lincoln County Deputy Rob Oney, who conducted the investigation was also cross-examined at length by the defense. Under direct questioning, Dalton asked Oney about his dismissal from the Sheriff's Office for inappropriately using funds belonging to the Waynesburg Little League Boosters in an attempt to forestall defense attacks on his credibility, however the defense had more dirt on the former deputy. Oney admitted that he had presented evidence in a meth lab case that Judge David Tapp, also the judge in the Napier case, had thrown out as fabricated. He also admitted that he had lied on his application to the Sheriff's Office about his drug use, which he agreed was more extensive than he previously reported including snorting Lortab at one time in his past.
The defense also called the only other witness present in the trailer after Nathan had collapsed. Jason Sparks, a co-worker and friend of Napier's from Lancaster, testified that he had arranged to buy drugs from Napier, and that when he got to the Rice Lane trailer, he found a boxer-clad Napier wet and holding a wet, naked and unconscious Knox in his arms. Sparks said that Napier told him he was giving the boy a bath and that “he just conked out.” Sparks also said that Napier held the unresponsive boy erect then released him to crumble to a couch and then the floor saying, “Look, lifeless.”
Sparks said that Napier asked him what to do, but would not call 911 despite repeated entreaties to do so, saying he'd wait for Noble to return, which she did moments later.
The state medical examiner testified to the nature of the injury Knox sustained, describing it as a forceful blow to the occipital bone at the back of Knox head. Hunsaker testified that whatever struck Knox head was relatively smooth, but would not speculate as to what it was. He did testify that a miniature baseball bat that was known to be at the scene but found later in the possession of Napier's mother had been tested and showed no DNA or blood evidence, only white cotton fibers.
Thursday morning, the defense called a school-friend of Napier's, Monica Wardrip, to the stand to testify that she had seen Noble spank Knox excessively for throwing a ball in the house, and that she had also failed to feed Knox one day because she was either too drugged up or hungover to do so. She also testified that just two weeks before his injury, Noble had tried to give Knox to her. Dalton, taking a play from the defenses playbook questioned her about why she had never mentioned any of this to anyone in the two years since Knox's death, to which she replied she that she didn't want to get involved.
Napier's mother, Kathy Napier was also brought to the stand by the defense and testified that she had removed a piece of cinderblock from the landing of the top of the stairs outside of the trailer that had a stain on it she suspected might be blood. Mrs. Napier couldn't explain why she hadn't mentioned this possibly exonerating piece of evidence to law enforcement officers or his current attorneys.
In his closing argument, Romines told the jurors that they had seen no evidence proving that Napier had struck the fatal blow to Knox and therefore couldn't “guess (Napier” into the penitentiary.” He also suggested that perhaps Noble had struck Knox with her car. Dalton countered by telling the jury that Knox was fine when she left him in the soul custody of Napier who was the only one present when the fatal blow was struck and they had to convict him.
When the sentence was returned, the jury received sentencing instructions and retired for only ten minutes before they returned with their recommended sentence of ten years for the manslaughter charge and five for the child abuse charge to run consecutively for a fifteen year sentence that is symmetrical with the time Noble will serve. Napier will be sentenced by Judge Tapp on Oct. 11.