Mother afforded expert in child homicide case
A 29-year-old Somerset woman will be afforded funds to hire an expert witness at trial in the death of her 10-month-old daughter.
President Judge D. Gregory Geary agreed to Angalina Miller’s request, which was presented by defense attorney Megan Will, of Somerset, at a hearing Thursday.
Miller and Michael Wingard, 31, Miller’s boyfriend, are charged with homicide and conspiracy in the infant’s death.
Wingard is represented by David Leake, of Somerset, and Jaclyn Nichols, of Pittsburgh. Miller is represented by Will and Patrick Svonavec, both of Somerset. The cases are joined and they will go to trial together. The defense attorneys are court-appointed because Miller and Wingard cannot afford a private attorney.
Their cases were continued at the call of the criminal trial list on Tuesday.
On April 10, 2017, the day Miller’s daughter Arianna was admitted to Somerset Hospital with traumatic injuries, police responded to a ChildLine report for alleged physical abuse of the child. The couple told emergency staff that Arianna had been ill since the previous day with nausea and vomiting. The baby was unconscious and unresponsive but breathing.
She was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma on the right side of the brain. A subdural hematoma is a collection of blood beneath the skull. The child was transferred later that day to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where the diagnosis was confirmed, according to a probable-cause affidavit. She died on April 14, 2017.
Medical personnel indicated that the baby’s injuries were inflicted about 12 to 24 hours prior to the exam and were the result of intentional force.
The couple was charged with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person in August. Homicide and conspiracy charges were added in November after authorities received an autopsy report. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the baby’s death was the result of blunt force head injury but listed the manner of death as undetermined.
“There are no experts opining as to the severity of the injuries, the onset of the injuries, and how the injuries could have occurred,” Will wrote in a petition asking for the appointment of an expert and payment of fees.
Given the amount of evidence and the nature of the charges, Will wrote that it was imperative that a medical expert be assigned to “provide opinions relative to this evidence in order to effectively and adequately prepare the case for trial and to properly advise the Defendant of all rights and responsibilities.”
Dr. Eric Vey, a forensic pathologist from Erie County, was appointed by President Judge D. Gregory Geary at a cost of $2,500 for his report, $2,500 to testify, if necessary, and $250 per hour if anything else is required, according to a court document. Vey was suggested by the defense.
Vey’s background includes undergraduate education at Notre Dame University, medical education at the University of Pittsburgh, a residency in Shadyside Hospital and fellowships at the Allegheny County coroner’s office, Will said.
She told Geary she spent some time locating Vey and compared the expenses of others in his field.
“I think it is very reasonable,” she said of the cost, adding that if he testifies, his testimony would be “relevant.” Geary agreed. District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said she felt Vey’s appointment was “appropriate” in this case.
Miller and Wingard are in the Somerset County Jail awaiting trial. Homicide is a nonbondable offense in Pennsylvania.