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Kanawha judge dubious of charges in child's highway death

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha County judge said Tuesday he doubts the validity of the murder and kidnapping charges against Ethan Samuel Chic-Colbert, who is accused of beating his girlfriend while pulled over on an interstate highway. The incident led to the death of the woman's 11-year-old son, who ran into traffic and was struck by a car.

In May, a grand jury indicted Chic-Colbert on charges of murder, kidnapping, domestic battery and several counts of child neglect creating a risk of serious injury and death for the March 4 beating of Lynitrah Woodson and the death of her son, Jahlil Clements.

During a pretrial hearing Tuesday, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom asked Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Dan Holstein to prepare a detailed brief describing the state's evidence of kidnapping and murder. State law allows prosecutors to charge defendants with murder if a person dies during certain crimes, such as kidnapping or burglary.

In this case, prosecutors argue that murder charges against Chic-Colbert should stick because he essentially held Woodson against her will while Clements ran into traffic.

"Quite honestly, while this a horrible, tragic event, I don't know that kidnapping has taken place," Bloom said during Tuesday's hearing. "I'll be candid with you, it seems weak at this point."

On March 4, Woodson was driving Chic-Colbert, her son and two other children home from a skate park on Corridor G when she and Chic-Colbert began arguing, Holstein said.

During the argument, Woodson tried to call her mother, causing Chic-Colbert to beat her, Holstein said.

"He basically exploded on her -- punched her so hard that her head was bouncing off the glass," Holstein said. "The only thing she could do was bring the car to a stop."

Holstein said that once Woodson managed to pull the car over, near the Leon Sullivan Way exit, Chic-Colbert dragged her out of the car by her hair, sat on top of her, and pounded on her with both fists. Clements, wearing dark clothes and waving his arms, ran into traffic. Witnesses told police that the boy appeared to be trying to flag down help when a car clipped him, Holstein said.

Holstein asked Bloom to allow the state to present its case for the murder and kidnapping charges in the trial next week. Bloom could choose to drop the charges after both sides present their cases to the jury, which would force the panel to consider Chic-Colbert's guilt on only the child neglect and domestic abuse charges.

Also Tuesday, Chic-Colbert's lawyer, Justin Collins, asked Bloom to consider changing the venue of the trial for fear that media attention to the case has swayed the Kanawha County jury pool.

Bloom said that he reads the newspaper regularly, and did not believe that there was a problem with publicity in the case that would prevent the parties from selecting a fair and impartial jury.

Prosecutors also will not be allowed to make any conclusions as to why Jahlil Clements ran into traffic the day he was killed because there is no way to know his exact motivation. Witnesses also may not testify that they believed Clements was searching for help when he died.

The trial starts Monday.

Chic-Colbert also is suspected in the shooting death of Beverly Ann Simley, who was found dead outside of a cafe on Sixth Avenue in September 2010. Authorities say Simley had a domestic violence petition against Chic-Colbert at the time of her death.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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