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Case moves forward against couple in baby's death

The baby's mother, Jessica Lynn Skupnick and Dominic Michael Hall are charged with felony child neglect

December 21, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • Dominic Michael Hall
Dominic Michael Hall

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Dec. 4 death of a 2-month-old boy in Berkeley County has been ruled a homicide, a sheriff's deputy said Tuesday in Berkeley County Magistrate Court.

The baby's mother, Jessica Lynn Skupnick, 22, and her boyfriend, Dominic Michael Hall, 18, are charged with felony child neglect resulting in the death of Jaxon Chaz Hall.

Jaxon was pronounced dead at 192 Butterfly Lane near Hedgesville, W.Va., where the infant resided with his mother and Hall, Hall's mother and his stepsister, according to testimony from Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. T.M. Snyder during a preliminary hearing held for Hall.

In addition to visible quarter- and nickel-sized bruises on the left and right side of the infant's forehead, Jaxon had two broken ribs on his left side, Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy Lt. Gary Harmison said of autopsy findings on Dec. 6 by Dr. Matrina Schmidt, a state deputy chief medical examiner and West Virginia University physician in Morgantown, W.Va.

Schmidt determined that the cause of Jaxon's death was blunt-force trauma to the head. Harmison said that the largest of the two bruises — internally — was about 3 inches in diameter.  

After hearing testimony from Harmison and Snyder, Magistrate Jim Humphrey found probable cause to allow the prosecution's case against Hall to proceed to circuit court. There, it can be presented to a grand jury for indictment.

Skupnick's preliminary hearing, which also was scheduled for Tuesday, was delayed because her court-appointed attorney, B. Craig Manford, was not aware he was assigned to her case since she and Hall were arrested on Dec. 13, officials said.

Attorney Homer Speaker of the 23rd Judicial Circuit's Public Defender's Office was assigned to represent Hall.

Hall and Skupnick were still incarcerated at Eastern Regional Jail Tuesday night on $50,000 bond each, according to jail records.

In Tuesday's hearing, Snyder testified that Jaxon's mother called 911 at about 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 4.

When he arrived to investigate at about 6 a.m., Snyder testified that Jaxon was wrapped in a blanket in a recliner-like chair in the living room at the family's home in the Back Creek Valley community of Jones Spring.

Skupnick and Hall, who Snyder testified was not the baby's biological father, had been living there since the end of July with Hall's mother and his 9-year-old half sister. They previously lived in the Gerrardstown, W.Va., area, Snyder said.

Hall's mother, in a statement to police, said she was made aware of the bruises on Jaxon's head on Dec. 1, Snyder testified.

On Dec. 3, the baby was scheduled to be taken to a physician for a routine checkup, but Snyder said the doctor's office informed him that the parents were a "no show" for the appointment, and they did not call the doctor's office to cancel it.

The couple indicated in interviews with police that they believed the child's heath was good, and there was no need to take him for the checkup, Snyder said.  

Hall, who was the baby's legally recognized father, told police that he had other things better to do the day of the doctor's appointment and wanted to go to a friend's house, Snyder said. Police also were told there was a family emergency, Snyder said.

Snyder said Hall indicated that he and Skupnick struggled to get the child to go to sleep the night of Dec. 3 and indicated in one statement that he tried to calm the baby after his girlfriend grew frustrated with the child. The child regularly slept in his car seat, and Hall told police that he rocked the child to sleep that night, Snyder said.

In three statements to police, however, Hall's accounts concerning the child's injuries changed and were inconsistent, Snyder said.

The defendant at first said Jaxon suffered no injuries prior to Dec. 4 but later indicated he was aware of them but didn't know how they happened, Snyder said.  

The criminal penalties for a felony conviction of one count of child neglect resulting in death include a prison sentence of not less than three nor more than 15 years, and as much as a $5,000 fine, under state law.

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