On a hot and steamy summer night, a Washington County jury returned a guilty-on-all-counts verdict against Roxanne Taylor in a criminal case that began exactly 16 months ago on a wintry morning in the Mon Valley community of New Eagle.
Taylor, 26, covered her eyes and forehead with her hands and cried as the jury foreman read the verdict sheet Monday night.
The jury of seven women and five men convicted Taylor of two counts each of aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and endangering the welfare of children.
After deliberating a little more than two hours, the jurors reached their verdict shortly after asking the judge to explain the serious bodily injury component of the aggravated assault charge.
Judge Katherine B. Emery scheduled sentencing for Sept. 13 before sheriff’s deputies led a handcuffed Taylor back to the Washington County jail.
“I think it was a just verdict. It was long, it was a very troubling case. Any time there’s small kids involved, it’s tough. I think Traci McDonald did an excellent job for the DA’s office,” said Patrolman Pete Rocco of Monongahela Police Department, after Judge Emery adjourned court.
Assistant District Attorney Traci McDonald declined comment.
Taylor’s attorney, Andrew Glasgow, said in his closing argument, “What this case really amounts to is picking on somebody who’s poor. It’s not against the law to be poor.”
After the jury returned its verdict, he said, “I am mystified as to how the jury reached that conclusion. I have always thought she was completely innocent of these charges. I never saw a serious bodily injury and I never saw an attempt to cause it. I never saw an intentional effort to cause it. I never saw a knowing effort to cause it. I never saw a reckless disregard for the value of human life, that essentially equates to not caring whether your children live or die. And there was no evidence that Ms. Taylor ever disregarded the welfare of her children.”
Asked if Taylor plans to appeal, Glasgow said, “I would have to discuss this with the client. It’s unclear exactly how she wants to proceed.”
As Glasgow predicted last week she would, Taylor, 26, of New Eagle, took the witness stand Monday morning, tearfully denying that she starved the children, one of whom escaped from his locked bedroom of the family home through a window Feb. 15, 2012. The defense described the incident as an accidental fall, while the prosecution characterized it as the catalyst that led to criminal charges against both the father and mother.
During her 2 1/2 hours on the witness stand, Taylor was adamant that she was a loving parent.
“I might not be a perfect mother,” Taylor testified. “Nobody’s perfect, but yes, I am a good mother.”
Taylor testified she last checked on the children at 5 a.m. that morning, less than an hour before a neighbor found the boy a few blocks away from the family’s Seventh Avenue home in 35-degree weather.
The neighbor, Edward Dermont, tried to return the child to the home Taylor shared with her fiance, Edward Buckholz, but no one answered his knocks at the front door.
The Dermonts summoned emergency personnel, and police also tried to wake the boy’s sleeping parents.
Taylor said a bedroom fan muffled the sound.
After opening the door to police, Taylor said she unlocked the twins’ bedroom door. “I noticed it felt a little cold,” she testified while sobbing. “I saw an open window and I saw my son’s bed empty and I let out a gasp.” Her daughter was asleep in her own bed, but her son had moved furniture to be able to climb to the window.
McDonald later said she found it difficult to comprehend that this did not awaken Taylor, who said she locked the children’s bedroom door with a sliding chain and placed a gate there to keep them from running through the house and hurting themselves.
Bruises on the boy were attributed to his landing on concrete below his bedroom window, but McDonald told the jury in her closing argument that the daughter, who neither fell nor climbed from the bedroom window, was also bruised. Taylor testified that neither she nor Buckholz struck the children.
On the February morning he was found out in the cold, a nurse at Monongahela Valley Hospital said the boy asked to use the toilet even though he arrived at the hospital wearing a shirt and a filthy diaper. His body temperature was 94.5 degrees, below the 95 degrees at which hypothermia occurs. Although the children were 6, their 30-some pounds were what one would expect to see in toddlers. Their legs were thin and their hair was wispy.
Taylor, who said she has an 11th-grade education, told the jury neither she nor her fiance, Edward J. Buckholz, was a drug or alcohol user, but on cross-examination, she said she had been prescribed morphine for back problems she had experienced since age 15 or 16.
The 6-year-old twins received Social Security disability income because they were deemed developmentally delayed. According to medical testimony earlier in the trial, the children were severely underweight. A humane officer testified last week she found dogs, cats and two rabbits living in squalor during the winter of 2011.
Under cross-examination, Taylor said a humane officer’s report that there were 32 animals in her home seemed “a little high.”
McDonald, in her closing, argued that Taylor noted that house cats had upper respiratory issues and made a trip to drop off kittens at a Animal Friends in Pittsburgh, yet did not take her children for well-care visits for 15 months due to transportation problems and that while she said she wanted to enroll them in kindergarten in the Ringgold School District, she failed to act on it. Taylor described the children as picky eaters, and when shown a picture of the boy after he was no longer in her custody, she described him as “overweight.” The children, in foster care, weigh 54 pounds and the girl will be entering first grade, which McDonald attributed to their change in environment.
Buckholz, 34, pleaded guilty in the case last month and is awaiting sentencing. Both he and Taylor have been incarcerated in the county jail since March 2012.