By Leo Wolfson
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — Two Cody residents were arrested March 31 by the Cody Police Department on charges of felony aggravated child abuse.
The victim of the alleged child abuse, 2-year-old Paisleigh Williams, passed away in Denver on Sunday afternoon as a result of the injuries she sustained. She was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Colorado for treatment.
In a release Monday morning announcing the death, Cody Police said the case is still under investigation.
Moshe Williams, 30, and Carolyn Aune, 28, were booked at the Park County Detention Center last Wednesday and are each being held with a $1 million cash-only bond set at their initial hearing Friday morning in connection with her injuries.
Park County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Hatfield said during their hearing the state is likely to press first-degree murder charges and possibly seek the death penalty.
“It may go to capital punishment for their egregious conduct,” Hatfield said during the initial hearing. “The agony suffered leads one to consider them a serious safety hazard.”
As of Friday morning the couple is being charged with aggravated child abuse, a charge carrying up to 25 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Aggravated child abuse is an elevated category of child abuse pertaining to situations when someone responsible for the welfare of a child has intentionally or recklessly inflicted physical injury upon an individual younger than 18-years-old.
The birth mother of the child, Billings resident Rebecca Holtsman, was with her daughter at the hospital in Denver by Friday afternoon.
“She was an amazing child,” Holtsman said in a phone interview. “She would just light up the whole entire town.”
Holtsman said her daughter had a gregarious personality and was beloved by her siblings.
“I can’t even describe in words everything this child is,” she said.
According to Aune, Williams lived two of the children he and Holtsman had together, along with Aune and her three children in one home since August 2020.
The couple’s arrest stemmed from an incident occurring last Saturday, when officers responded to Cody Regional Health Emergency Room at the request of the hospital staff to investigate a report of an alleged child abuse involving the child.
Williams brought his child to the emergency room around midday March 27. The child was unresponsive and emergency personnel noticed numerous bruises on her body.
Cody Police Officer Juston Wead also went to the hospital after being notified of the situation and said he saw bruising “on her legs, back, head and face,” and potential bruising inside one eye. CRH’s Dr. John Murray reported she also had a fractured vertebrae in her neck and that she had been checked into the hospital about three weeks prior for a possible clavicle fracture, which Williams said was caused by her being accidentally kicked by her 14-month-old brother.
“Dr. Murray believed these were intentional injuries not caused by accident,” Wead said.
Wead said in the affidavit that Williams and Aune also made vague references alleging the bruising to have come as a result of one of the other children sleepwalking, and Williams said he was told by Aune an injury the child received to her chin occurred when she fell during potty training.
Williams told authorities he had received training to become a nursing assistant in the past, “but they didn’t teach him everything,” Wead said.
“Moshe couldn’t provide a plausible explanation on why he didn’t do more about the injuries,” Wead said.
After an exploratory surgery performed the evening of March 27 at CRH, it was determined the girl had a detached bowel, according to the affidavit. Wead said medical staff were concerned about internal bleeding and were attempting to stabilize her so she could be life-flighted to Denver. During the flight to Denver, the child went into cardiac arrest, and then was returned to Cody where she was brought back to life and stabilized.
By the morning of March 28, the girl was at Children’s Hospital Colorado and stabilized on a ventilator, but her chances of survival were not looking good, health officials said.
In a conversation with a medical representative from the hospital, Wead said it was determined the cause of the injury was from blunt force trauma. The medical representative listed the symptoms of this injury to Wead, which align with what Williams and Aune said the girl had been expressing in the 24 hours leading up to her hospital admittance.
It was also revealed the child had suffered a rib fracture 1-2 weeks prior.
“It was the opinion of the (CHC) team that the injuries to PW (Paisleigh Williams) were sustained over a period of time and not from a singular event,” Wead said. “It was also their diagnosis that PW is a victim of child abuse.”
Medical staff determined the impact had taken place sometime 24-48 hours prior to surgery she received on March 27 and is not typically associated with playing, but rather, abuse.
By March 30, it was determined the child’s right leg would have to be amputated due to lack of circulation in the leg caused by the cardiac arrest.
Wead said the medical professionals determined both Williams and Aune should have realized the girl was seriously ill, and should have taken her to receive medical care much sooner than they did, their delay likely leading to a more adverse outcome.
Williams told police his daughter’s behavior started changing in January when she began showing signs of depression, biting her nails, scratching her head and refusing to eat. He attributed this to a number of factors that included COVID-19 and her birth mother not being with her, according to the affidavit.
Aune said although Holtsman had videochats with her daughter, she has not had physical contact “for some time.” She said she had no idea what was going on with the child but that she usually would only make herself throw up after talking with her mother or other family.
Williams said the girl had digestive issues as a baby but had since been on a normal diet of food, and Aune said she had been gaining weight and starting to eat better the last few days before her emergency.
Most significant of the bruises were two located on her back, according to the affidavit. Williams said he did not notice most of these bruises until shortly before bringing her to the hospital.
Williams told medical staff the child had bruises because she had fallen out of a toddler bed that sits about 1 foot off the ground.
According to multiple reports and witness statements, the condition of the child reached a critical juncture the night before she was taken to the hospital.
Williams said he and Aune gave the child a bath and then put her to bed for the night. He said the child wasn’t expressing much at this point, besides rubbing her belly and “‘saying she didn’t feel well,’” Wead said.
Williams neglected to mention until a later interview that he had taken his 14-month-old son to the hospital this night for respiratory issues and stayed there until around 4:30 a.m. for that emergency visit.
The next morning Williams said he discovered Paisleigh had thrown up during the night, so he gave her another bath, which is when he said he first noticed her bruises.
He later changed this account and said he noticed swelling on her head the night before.
Williams said he kept trying to give her fluids including Pedialyte but nothing would stay down.
The child was then put down for another nap while Williams reached out to a friend for advice about treating the child. He said after returning home from Walmart to get some Pepto Bismol and cream he found her laying on the floor unresponsive, which finally prompted him to bring her to the hospital.
Police said he later changed his story to say that the child was found on the floor before he went to Walmart. Williams said Aune was looking over the child when he made the store trip.
Around mid-afternoon March 27, Williams reported to the Park County Detention Center for a voluntary interview.
Upon coming into the interview room, Williams was heard talking on his cellphone to Aune.
An officer reported hearing Aune say, “something to the effect of, what are you going to tell them?” Wead said in the affidavit.
Williams first made “several comments” to authorities denying that he and Aune, who is the caretaker for all the children when he is gone, abuse their children, Wead said.
The other four children have been placed in protective custody.
“Moshe said Carolyn told him she doesn’t hit PW. It is unclear when this conversation between Moshe and Carolyn occurred, however it’s believed they’ve had discussions about bruises on PW before the current situation,” Wead said.
Later on in interviews, Williams and Aune both said it was possible that the other could have committed the abuse, but neither directly placed blame on one another. When told about this, Williams claimed Aune was “trying to save herself.”
Aune reiterated multiple times she never physically saw the girl being abused, but told officers she “did have an idea” how it could have happened.
“Who else could have done it?” Aune said. “I know for a fact I did not touch her.”
When shown photos of the child’s injuries, Wead said Aune remained emotionless, besides expressing verbal shock to one photo. She had a vague answer when asked how she felt about Williams accusing her of the crime.
“How am I supposed to feel about it?” she asked Wead. “Because everything I say to you, you tell me I’m lying.”
Authorities performed an interview with Aune around midday on March 27. She told authorities Williams’ daughter had been making herself throw up when she didn’t want to eat something.
Aune said the girl started throwing up the morning of March 26 and provided a story that matched up to Williams’ provided timeline. She said on this day the child was expressing relatively normal behavior, but continued to throw up over the course of the day. Aune said she first noticed the bruising while giving her a bath that night.
She said there had been a history of the child going to bed without bruises and then having them appear on her by the next morning, and said that, “All Williams would tell her was the option of (unnamed sibling) doing it when she was sleeping,” Wead said.
On March 30, Wead started receiving text messages and phone calls from Williams and Aune asking for permission to travel to Cheyenne.
Wead said these requests prompted police to arrest the couple the next day at their home.
When these requests were mentioned as proof of the couples’ flight risk during the hearing, Aune defended the request in that “everyone said that was OK,” making no comment or explanation regarding the charges she was facing.
Although Hatfield’s main defense for the $1 million bond mostly relied on the possibility of the couple being charged with first degree murder in the future, circuit court Judge Bruce Waters saw merit in the argument.
“While I don’t like to set bond on something that may or may not happen in the future, I recognize the serious nature of this matter,” he said.