POWELL — At a court appearance last week, a Cody man and woman formally denied allegations that they fatally abused a 2-year-old child.
Moshe Williams, 30, and Carolyn Aune, 28, each pleaded not guilty to a count of first-degree murder. The couple is charged in connection with the April 4 death of Williams’ daughter, Paisleigh Williams.
Authorities say Paisleigh appeared to have been dealt a forceful “gut punch” sometime between the night of March 25 and the afternoon of March 27, when Williams took her to the hospital. The blow was severe enough to separate her intestines and eventually caused her death, police say in charging documents; medical professionals also reportedly found evidence that the girl suffered broken bones and other injuries in the weeks and months before her death.
Charging documents quote Williams and Aune as both telling police that they did not abuse the child. Aune and Williams reportedly offered various theories as to how Paisleigh might have been injured — while also casting suspicion on one another.
The murder charges allege that both Aune and Williams intentionally or recklessly inflicted physical injuries and killed Paisleigh. However, police have not yet been able to determine how the child was injured or who was responsible.
At preliminary hearings for the two defendants, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters noted the ambiguity around the child’s death.
Ultimately, the judge found there was enough evidence to demonstrate “probable cause,” and he allowed the case to advance toward a trial in district court. However, for Williams and Aune to be convicted, Park County prosecutors will face a much higher bar — needing to convince 12 jurors of the couple’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Aune and Williams are presumed to be innocent.
“You don’t have to prove anything,” District Court Judge Bill Simpson reminded the couple during Wednesday’s arraignment, as he went over their constitutional rights. “The burden is on the state.”
Simpson will not be presiding over the case, explaining that he handled a previous, unrelated court case involving Williams. The case will instead be assigned to fellow Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield of Thermopolis. However, in order to speed the case along, Simpson handled last week’s arraignment.
Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield offered that “if arraignment is a critical stage, and if the court (Simpson) believes it has a conflict, it would make more sense to have Judge Overfield do it.”
“But the state definitely understands and thinks it’s appropriate to start the speedy trial clock,” Hatfield added. “We don’t want to prejudice the defendants in any way”
“So do you have an objection on behalf of the state?” Simpson asked.
“No objection, your honor,” Hatfield said.
Now that Williams and Aune have been arraigned, Judge Overfield will need to schedule a trial within the next 180 days. The couple remains incarcerated at the Park County Detention Center, with bail set at $1 million cash for each defendant. Simpson indicated that Judge Overfield may hold a hearing to consider lowering their bonds.