Tuesday, January 17, 2017 - Updated: 10:37 AM
By Rachel Keller Collins
A Marshall County grand jury will review the case of the couple arrested and charged with criminal abuse of their 1-year-old child shortly before Christmas. The pair appeared in Marshall District Court last week where District Judge Jack Telle ruled probable cause had been shown based on the testimony of the two arresting officers, Deputy Chris Greenfield and Deputy Luke Rudd with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office.
Greenfield, who testified first, reviewed the basic information of the case for the court. He said employees at J’s Steakhouse in Draffenville contacted police concerning bruises on the child. The officers arrived at approximately 8:50 p.m. as 30-year-old Jennifer Roper and 31-year-old Joshua Roper were leaving with their 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.
Greenfield said he and Rudd immediately noticed “significant bruises,” which Rudd later testified were clearly visible from outside the Ropers’ vehicle, and upon further investigation located bruises on the boy’s face and head, stomach, both arms and legs, the middle of the lower back and behind both his ears. Officers also reported identifying bite marks on both the child’s legs. In addition to noting the injuries, officers also took photographs.
The officers testified that when asked to explain the bruising on the boy, the parents allegedly blamed daycare, his older sister throwing toys at him and the boy “being clumsy and falling off the couch at home.” They said they also learned during the course of questioning that the children had been returned to the parents just a month ago so the family was already assigned a case worker, who was contacted during the initial questioning. The case worker allegedly reported a transition worker had just visited the home two days before the incident and noted some bruises, but because no one from child protective services appeared to testify, everyone present was left to assume the injuries weren’t as bad as the night of the incident.
The absence of both or either case workers caused contention in the hearing for two reasons: one, because no one in the courtroom could say whether the same injuries the officers saw as serious were deemed less serious by the worker who had visited the child just two days before or if those injuries happened after the visit; and two, no one in the courtroom was able to testify with certainty as to the bite marks on the child’s legs, whether they were potentially made by the child’s older sibling or if they appeared to be adult-sized.
In fact, Judge Telle paused the hearing and held another preliminary hearing while counsel tried, with no success, to get either the transition worker or the case worker to the hearing.
Jennifer was arrested at the scene on the evening of Dec. 23 and lodged in the Marshall County Detention Center at approximately 10 p.m. for a ‘failure to appear’ bench warrant out of Calloway County. Officers reported she agreed to a drug screen at the detention center and tested positive for Buprenorphine and Benzodiazepine, both of which she allegedly claimed to have been prescribed.
Greenfield said he then accompanied Joshua and the 1-year-old child to Marshall County Hospital Emergency Room where Dr. Beale examined the child. It was at that point, Greenfield said, he documented the injuries on the child’s body while Dr. Beale pointed toward them and noted the bruises were at different stages of healing. Greenfield said Dr. Beale determined the injuries were not consistent with the reports of the parents and instead determined they were indicative of abuse. Dr. Beale also allegedly advised Greenfield that he was not comfortable with the idea of sending the child home with Joshua.
Greenfield reported when social workers with CPS arrived at the hospital and spoke with Joshua, he allegedly stated he had returned to work earlier in the week, leaving both children at home with Jennifer, their mother, and reported “no one else was around them that week.” It was at that point, according to Greenfield, social workers made the decision to remove the children from the home for their safety and well being and Joshua was arrested and lodged in the Marshall County Detention Center Dec. 24 at approximately 1 a.m.
Andrea Moore, an attorney with the Dept. of Public Advocacy who is representing Joshua, expressed concerns about accepting the report of Dr. Beale who she said is more like a general practitioner and does not have specialized training or experience in recognizing child abuse. But what she seemed more concerned with was when her client was Mirandized.
Moore repeatedly asked both Greenfield and Rudd if, during the questioning at the parking lot and the hospital (although Rudd reported not being present for the hospital questioning), her client was free to leave. Both officers testified he was not free to leave as there was an active investigation. Then she would ask, repeatedly, if they had read her client his Miranda Rights during questioning and they responded “no,” each time. She did not ask if he was Mirandized once he was officially under arrest, only if he had been during questioning.
Moore later argued that probable cause was not shown, that not only had her client’s Miranda Rights been violated but again brought to question the ER doctor’s training and lack of expertise in such a case.
Amy Harwood-Jackson, conflict counsel representing Jennifer, echoed Moore’s concerns and additionally argued that the injuries to the child hadn’t been a concern to the transition case worker who allegedly conducted a welfare check two days previous because the child was left in the parents’ care.
But Judge Telle said the purpose of a preliminary hearing is not for answering all questions, simply to establish probable cause and he ruled probable cause had been shown for a grand jury to review the matter.
Moore and Harwood-Jackson requested a bond modification from the $15,000 cash, saying the couple had someone who would agree to put up a surety bond for them: Glen Skelton. Judge Telle questioned Skelton, saying he wanted to make sure Skelton understood the risk he would be taking by signing a surety bond for the pair.
Skelton said he is an elder and Sunday School teacher at Heartland Worship Center in Paducah who has known the couple for approximately three years and “has been trying to help them get their lives back on track.” He told Telle he speaks to the couple, typically Jennifer, two to three times a week but mostly on the phone.
Telle said if the bite marks on the child’s legs had been conclusively from an adult, he would not even consider bond but without a definite answer regarding the matter, would consider a $25,000 surety bond for each defendant if Skelton were to sign for them. When he asked if Skelton had agreed to sign a surety bond, Skelton said he had told the couple he would help however he could but that he was sure he would be divorced if he signed up for $50,000-worth of surety bonds. He said he only came to the hearing to learn the details of the case, not to get financially involved. Telle said in that case, he would not modify the bond at this time.
Both Joshua and Jennifer are charged with criminal abuse, 1st degree, child 12 or under. The grand jury next convenes on Feb. 14.