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W.Va. woman who pleaded no contest to child neglect in son's death gets 3 to 15 years

April 09, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • Jessica Skupnick
File photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A woman who pleaded no contest in September 2012 to child neglect resulting in the death of her 2-month-old son was sentenced Tuesday in Berkeley County Circuit Court to between three and 15 years in prison.

Jessica Skupnick, 24, 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. Hall pleaded guilty to one felony count of death of a child by a parent, custodian or guardian. He was not Jaxon Hall’s biological father.

Before announcing Skupnick’s sentence, 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III cited a diagnostic evaluation that recommended the defendant’s incarceration. The judge also cited Skupnick’s failure to take the child to see a doctor when there is evidence to show she knew he had sustained injuries.

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“This court will not forget that an innocent 2-month-old baby boy, Jaxon Chaz Hall, is dead,” Silver said.

In remarks before pronouncing Skupnick’s sentence, Silver reviewed the findings of an autopsy, specifying the baby’s multiple injuries. The examination found that the child was physically assaulted more than once and died from blunt-force trauma to the head and rib cage, officials have said.

Evidence compiled in the case led authorities to ultimately conclude that Hall was the actual perpetrator in the child’s death, not Skupnick.

But Silver said Skupnick already had received the benefit of a plea agreement that resulted in her conviction for a lesser offense and added her inaction was just as clearly a cause for Jaxon’s death as Hall’s actions.

Silver said he would not ignore the diagnostic evaluation’s findings, and noted the report recommended incarceration as likely being the best sentence for Skupnick given the extent of her psychological and social problems.

Silver noted that the report indicated Skupnick’s problems need to be addressed in a long-term therapeutic setting in order to reduce the likelihood she would become a repeat offender.

Silver also noted that Skupnick’s hearing impediment did not reduce the expectations of her as a parent.

“Only a mother with serious (psychological) problems would allow such a thing to happen,” Silver said.

Defense attorney B. Craig Manford questioned whether the state’s correctional system actually had the resources to help Skupnick, given her hearing impediment.

Silver said the state has interpreters available on an as-needed basis.

Based upon information compiled ahead of Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Silver said it appears Skupnick, who was raised by her grandparents, did not have a bad childhood, but quite the opposite.

Silver said Skupnick appears to have rebelled against how she was raised, noting she had dated three men in “a very short period of time” and placed Jaxon in an abusive setting when she decided to live with Hall. Silver also noted that Skupnick became pregnant again and had a second child in August 2011.

“It was a history of one bad choice after another,” Silver said.

Silver said if the court was to err in sentencing Skupnick, it was going to err on the side of protecting the defendant’s second child.

The adoption of Skupnick’s second child by her grandparents was expected to be finalized this month, officials have said.

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