CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- The attorney for a man facing up to 30 years in prison told state Supreme Court justices Wednesday that a Kanawha County judge and prosecutors erred when sentencing his client.
Ethan Chic-Colbert, 23, was convicted in July 2012 of domestic battery, child neglect resulting in death and three counts of gross child neglect after getting into a fight with his girlfriend on Interstate 77 in March 2012. Jahlil Clements, 11, was killed when he ran out into traffic to try to keep Chic-Colbert from hitting his mother, Lynitrah Woodson.
Chic-Colbert was originally indicted on charges of murder and kidnapping, but was tried on the lesser charges. Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom sentenced Chic-Colbert to six to 30 years in prison.
But Woody Hill, Chic-Colbert's attorney, is appealing the convictions. Hill told Supreme Court justices Wednesday that prosecutors made two vital errors during the trial, both of which violate Chic-Colbert's rights.
"This is Constitutional Law 101," Hill told the justices, arguing that Chic-Colbert was tried under the wrong state statute.
Hill told the court that language in the circuit court documents charges Chic-Colbert with child neglect resulting in injury, but that his client was convicted of child neglect resulting in death. Hill said Chic-Colbert should be sentenced under the more lenient penalties of the lesser charge.
Hill also said Chic-Colbert was wrongly convicted of child neglect for two of the people who were in the car at the time of Clements' death. In addition to Woodson and Clements, there were three other children in the car, but Hill said two of them were friends of Clements whom Chic-Colbert didn't even know. The other was Chic-Colbert's son.
In order to be charged with child neglect, Hill argued, Chic-Colbert would have had to agreed to be a custodian or guardian of the children. Hill told the justices Chic-Colbert had never agreed to take on a custodial role for the two children.
According to court testimony, Chic-Colbert and Woodson had taken the children to the Grand Prix Family Fun Center on Corridor G the day of Clements' death, and were on their way back when Chic-Colbert and Woodson got into a fight in the car. Woodson pulled over near the Leon Sullivan Way exit, and Clements jumped out of the car to summon help as Chic-Colbert beat his mother.