Sorry this update is late! I’ve been struggling lately to stay on top of everything, but I’m trying. Thanks for your patience with me!
Last week, the second of three defendants charged in the death of five-year-old Keaton Boggs went to trial. Michelle Boggs, as well as her daughter, Chastity Wodzinski, and Chasity’s husband, Peter “PJ” Wodzinski, were each charged with a count of death of a child by a parent, guardian, custodian, or other person by child abuse.
Keaton, the son of Michelle’s late son, Christopher Boggs, died at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia on March 20, 2020 after two days on life support. An autopsy determined Keaton had died from a massive brain bleed, but he had also suffered a multitude of other brutal injuries, many of which were described during testimony at the trials of both 33-year-old PJ Wodzinski, who was convicted in March, and 49-year-old Michelle Boggs, whose trial took place last week. 30-year-old Chasity’s trial is scheduled for a later date; she recently obtained a new attorney, James Hawkins Jr., who is familiarizing himself with the case before it can proceed.
Michelle, who requires the use of an oxygen tank, was represented by veteran attorney Dreama Sinkkanen, who has practiced law for over 27 years. The state of West Virginia was represented by Harrison County Prosecutor Rachel Romano and Assistant Prosecutor Gina Snuffer.
Michelle’s trial began on Monday, April 19, with jury selection and opening statements, after which an emergency room doctor testified to Keaton’s condition when he arrived at the hospital. The doctor said Keaton was unconscious and covered in bruises, his breathing shallow and his brain bleeding. The hospital notified Child Protective Services about Keaton’s condition.
Next, a retired West Virginia State Police trooper testified, during which the prosecution played for the jury two statements Michelle gave to the police regarding Keaton’s injuries. There were important details that changed between the two accounts. At one point, Michelle stated to the trooper, “I think PJ hurt Keaton.”
On Tuesday, April 20, several more witnesses testified before Harrison County Circuit Judge James A. Matish to the severity of Keaton’s injuries, which included two black eyes, a brain bleed, a severe four-centimeter cut on his genitals, a scar from a previous cut in the same place, a large scrape on the top of his right foot, and various contusions, abrasions, and lacerations all over his body.
Dr. Casey McCluskey of the J.W. Ruby Memorial Pediatric Intensive Care Unit took the stand that day, testifying about the stories she was told while speaking with Michelle and Chasity on March 18, 2020 when Keaton first arrived. The story she was told differed yet from the two stories Michelle told police.
Even though she ultimately told at least five different stories, Michelle did not make it clear whether or not she was home during the hours preceding Keaton being taken to the hospital or even who found him unresponsive.
At one point, Michelle said she found Keaton unresponsive and called Chasity to come home, but in another version, she told troopers that Chasity found Keaton unresponsive and carried him downstairs to her.
Dr. McCluskey’s told the court Keaton was “one of the worst — the sickest — patients I’ve ever taken care of… The full picture of him was, beyond a doubt, not something he did to himself.”
Oh, yes… did I mention the three accused grown-ass adults tried to blame the five-year-old child for his own injuries? Of course they did.
Dr. McCluskey’s testimony also produced a revelation that left tears in my eyes when I read it. After he died, Keaton received a cape, Dr. McCluskey said, “because he became a superhero to us” by donating his organs.
A caseworker from Child Protective Services also took the stand, saying, “There wasn’t one part of his body that didn’t contain an injury,” which included the “horrific injury to his genitals… It was obvious he was suffering abuse.”
The same CPS worker testified about the agency’s decision to donate Keaton’s organs, saying she and others “had a discussion, and we decided we wanted Keaton’s short life to have a purpose.” Through the gift of organ donation, she said, Keaton “was able to give the gift of life to seven individuals.”
Registered Nurse Meredith Linger, J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital’s Sex Assault Nurse Examiner coordinator, testified that she counted on Keaton’s body at least 40 injuries in various stages of healing, “This, at the time, was the worst case I had ever seen.”
On the same day, Ginger Haring, a West Virginia State Police digital forensic analyst from the Crimes Against Children Unit, took the stand. During her testimony, jurors were shown multiple text messages sent to and from Michelle’s phone, including:
- A message from September 25, 2019 from Chasity to Michelle: “Tell him to shut up his uncle pj is sick and about to come beat his [expletive deleted].”
- A message from September 7, 2019 from Michelle to a woman in Pennsylvania: “Keaton has put a belt around his neck 2 times now and pulled it.” A second message read, “Yeah cause it is awful what is going thru right now… he beats his face black and blue.”
There were multiple additional messages from Michelle to the woman in Pennsylvania that indicated Keaton regularly attended behavioral health counselling appointments, although the evidence presented by the prosecution shows that Keaton attended only a single appointment during the seven months his grandmother was his legal guardian.
Also on Tuesday, the court heard testimony from West Virginia Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Donald Pojman, who testified that Keaton’s death was a homicide, saying, “Mr. Boggs died from blunt force injury to his head.”
Jurors were shown several photos of Keaton’s injuries, including one photo of the bruised, battered little boy with tubes and wires everywhere. The photos were taken by nurses under order from Dr. McCluskey, as well as Nurse Linger and the nurses working with her. Dr. McCluskey choked up during her testimony, saying the best way to describe Keaton’s injuries objectively was by taking photographs of them.
On Wednesday, the prosecution presented its final two witnesses. One was a behavioral counsellor, who testified that she met with Keaton only once and that three other appointments for him to meet with her had been cancelled.
The second was a pediatrician who examined Keaton on January 29, 2020, at which time Keaton had a black eye and scratches to his arms and face that were supposedly caused by the family dog.
After the prosecution rested, the defense moved for a judgment of acquittal, saying the prosecution had not proved that Michelle knew about the abuse they claimed was caused by PJ Wodzinski. Judge Matish denied the motion.
The defense called two witnesses, friends of Michelle, who both testified that Michelle had mentioned to them prior to Keaton’s death that she was concerned about his self-injurious behaviors.
Then, Michelle’s attorney took a huge gamble by putting her client on the stand, a risky move many defense attorneys won’t make, especially when their client’s credibility is as dubious as Michelle’s. Those five stories she told had to weigh heavily on the minds of jurors as they listened to her sob story.
During the approximately two hours and fifteen minutes of direct examination by attorney Dreama Sinkkanen, Michelle testified that Keaton was a “drug baby” who injured himself for years and that she had never seen either PJ or Chasity hurt him.
Michelle testified that she didn’t spend a lot of time around Keaton after she brought him from Pennsylvania, where he lived with his father, Christopher Boggs, until Chris’s unexpected death on Father’s Day in 2019. Although Michelle was his legal guardian, she said she left Keaton with Chasity and PJ, who have three children of their own, while she stayed elsewhere, usually at a female friend’s apartment. She brought Keaton back with her because, she said, she was depressed over her own son’s death.
Michelle told the court that Chasity was actually raising Keaton, but because Chasity had never gotten around to seeking legal guardian status — although she and PJ were Keaton’s legal custodians and therefore in charge of his finances — Michelle became legal guardian despite not even living in the home. (What is that nonsense?)
Claiming she did not know that Keaton was being abused, Michelle said she hadn’t been feeling well and was hospitalized herself for a heart attack about two weeks before Keaton’s hospitalization. After being released, she said, she stayed briefly with Chasity and PJ before going to her friend’s apartment for eight or nine days. About two days before Keaton was hospitalized, she said, she returned to the Wodzinski home.
Prior to cross-examination, Prosecutor Rachel Romano argued that Michelle’s own testimony opened the door for the prosecution to introduce into evidence several photos of Keaton that jurors had previously not been permitted to see or even know about. Michelle’s attorney argued against the introduction of the photos, which I believe to be in large part the pictures of Keaton taken at his two birthday parties in early 2020, where he appears bruised and battered. The photos portray a little boy with clear bruising on his face and head, two swollen black eyes, and knots on his forehead.
Romano was permitted to question Michelle about the photos, which were taken on January 3, February 13, and March 7, 2020, and she did so with the clear intention to undermine Michelle’s defense: that she had no idea Keaton was being abused. The prosecution even played part of Michelle’s original police statement, in which she told police that Keaton had multiple bruises.
Michelle stuck to her guns during cross-examination, insisting she didn’t know Keaton’s injuries were due to abuse; she said the injuries she had seen on Keaton weren’t that bad or had other explanations.
Michelle also said that Keaton always wore long sleeved shirts, pants, and socks, saying he always claimed to be cold, and because of this, she never saw his injuries. She did see some injuries on his face, she said, but the explanations given by her daughter and PJ satisfied her.
On the day Keaton was hospitalized, Michelle testified, his face was not bruised when she left the house that morning. She said PJ must have caused the injuries, because he was the only adult home that day. Later, Keaton’s face was the most injured she had ever seen it, but she was not aware of any additional injuries until seeing photos during her trial.
(Side note: Michelle herself told medical staff she had threatened to cut Keaton’s penis off if he didn’t stop touching it. I guess she wanted the jury to believe the laceration in that area was a coincidence?)
After Michelle stepped down, the prosecution recalled the digital forensic analyst to authenticate the photos before court recessed for the day. Finally, Sinkkanen once again moved for a judgment of acquittal, but Judge Matish shot her down again.
On the morning of Thursday, April 22, 2021, both sides presented their closing arguments. Gina Snuffer told the jury that all the photos they had seen of Keaton were “screaming” for a guilty verdict. Saying Michelle always had her phone with her, Snuffer pointed out, “That’s all she needed to save Keaton: one phone call.”
After both sides’ closing arguments, the jury deliberated for just over half an hour before returning with a verdict, finding Michelle Lynn Boggs guilty. Judge Matish will likely sentence Michelle in June to the mandatory sentence of life in prison with parole eligibility after 15 years, which will be back-dated to her arrest on March 20, 2020.
PJ Wodzinski, who did not testify at his own trial and whose jury deliberated for 25 minutes before finding him guilty in March, is scheduled to be sentenced on May 19 to the same sentence Michelle will soon receive.
Sources: WVNews, 12WBOY, WDTV