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Judge needs more information before sentencing W.Va. mother in death of infant

Twenty-third Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III said he heard some things in a sentencing hearing for Jessica Skupnick that prompted him to recess proceeding until April 9

April 03, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • Jessica Lynn Skupnick
Jessica Lynn Skupnick

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A circuit judge said Wednesday he needed more information before sentencing a woman who pleaded no contest in September 2012 to child neglect resulting in the death of her 2-month-old son, Jaxon.

Twenty-third Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III said he heard some things in Wednesday’s sentencing hearing for Jessica Skupnick, 24, that prompted him to recess the proceeding until April 9 so the court could obtain the unspecified information.

Wednesday’s hearing lasted more than two hours and included testimony by Skupnick, who faces a maximum of three to 15 years in prison, and her paternal grandmother.

Skupnick and her now-former boyfriend, Dominic Hall, were indicted in October 2011 on two felony counts of death of a child by a parent, custodian or guardian, and single counts of child neglect resulting in death, gross child neglect creating substantial risk of bodily injury, and conspiracy.

Hall, 21, who is incarcerated at Huttonsville (W.Va.) Correctional Center, was sentenced in April 2012 to 40 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one felony count of death of a child by a parent, custodian or guardian.

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Given the evidence compiled by the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office in the case, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely told the court that they concluded Hall was the actual perpetrator in the child’s death, not Skupnick.

“It’s because of what she didn’t do that this child’s deceased,” said Games-Neely, who recommended the court suspend the prison sentence.

Instead, Games-Neely recommended Skupnick serve four months in jail, but also be credited for a total of nearly 90 days that the defendant was held at Eastern Regional Jail and at Lakin Correctional Center, where she recently underwent a 60-day diagnostic evaluation.

Skupnick was released on bond conditions following the evaluation and is not currently incarcerated.

Games-Neely said Skupnick would have to register as an abusive parent and also sought assurances that Skupnick would not be unsupervised when around her second child, who was born in August 2011.

Skupnick’s grandmother said she and her husband’s adoption of their granddaughter’s second child is expected to be finalized this month.

“She will never be unsupervised with (the child) as long as I am on the face of this Earth,” Skupnick’s grandmother testified Wednesday.

Skupnick and her grandmother’s testimony was arranged by defense attorney B. Craig Manford, who told the court that the defendant had no prior criminal history.

Skupnick testified that she should have found some way to get Jaxon to the doctor’s appointment that she canceled the day before she found her son dead in December 2010.

Skupnick said she also now realizes she should have found a way to remove herself and her child from the residence where she and Hall were living together at the time of Jaxon’s death.

Skupnick said Hall was abusing her and scaring her son before unexplained bruises were discovered on the child’s body.

The child died from multiple blunt-force trauma to the head and rib cage, Games-Neely has said.

Skupnick began crying upon recounting on the witness stand how she awoke to find her son pale and not breathing.

When she touched Jaxon that morning, Skupnick said he felt like a porcelain doll.

In questioning by Games-Neely, Skupnick agreed that she was “ill-equipped” to be a mother and that Hall had no parental responsibilities because he wasn’t Jaxon’s biological father.

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