CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Supreme Court upheld a felony child neglect conviction against a Charleston man whose girlfriend's son was hit and killed on the interstate last year.
Ethan Chic-Colbert, 23, will continue to serve a six-to-30-year sentence after an attempt to overturn his conviction failed. He was convicted in July 2012 of child neglect resulting in death, three counts of child neglect creating the risk of serious bodily injury, and domestic battery.
The conviction came in the death of 11-year-old Jahlil Clements, who was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 64-77 as he tried to flag down help for his mother, Lynitrah Woodson, in March 2012. Chic-Colbert, Woodson's then-boyfriend and father of her 3-year-old son, Ethan Jr., had dragged her from her car and was beating her along the road.
Citing a typographical error in the indictment, his attorneys, Woody and Kelli Hill, argued that Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom imposed an illegal sentence.
Chic-Colbert also claimed there was insufficient evidence presented to charge and convict him of child neglect creating a risk of bodily injury in relation to Jahlil's two friends, who also were in the vehicle.
Justices found Bloom's sentence was correct and that the evidence was sufficient, according to the decision released Monday.
Woodson was driving back to Malden with Chic-Colbert, and four children, including Jahlil and the child she shares with Chic-Colbert, after an evening at Grand Prix Family Fun Center off Corridor G when the incident occurred. The other two children in the vehicle were Andrew Proctor and Tyrel Coffman, two of Jahlil's classmates at Malden Elementary School.
The children in the vehicle and Woodson told the jury that Chic-Colbert began beating Woodson while she was driving and that she stopped the car on the interstate.
They said Jahlil hit Chic-Colbert to protect his mother and that they also tried to help. Chic-Colbert then dragged her out of the car by her hair and across the traffic lanes where he proceeded to beat and kick her.
Jahlil got out and ran across the road to help his mother. The boys got out of the car to yell for Jahlil to come back because of the baby.
Mary Crist and Marcie Ball pulled off the road to help after seeing the stopped car. They saw Chic-Colbert beating Woodson and then saw Jahlil get struck by a vehicle as he stood in the road waving for help. Jahlil died hours later at a Charleston hospital.
Chic-Colbert was initially charged with kidnapping Woodson and felony murder of Jahlil, but Bloom dismissed the kidnapping charge. Prosecutors then had to drop the felony murder charge because it was linked to the kidnapping charge.
Chic-Colbert's attorneys argued he should have been sentenced to one-to-three years under the lesser penalties of the child neglect causing injury statute. A charge on the indictment was missing a letter, indicating it was child neglect resulting in injury instead of child neglect resulting in death.
Justices noted in the brief that they have found in the past that "typographical errors are not fatal to an indictment."
"In the case at bar, notwithstanding the omission of the letter "a," there can be no doubt that the State charged the petitioner with child neglect resulting in death when Count Four expressly stated that the petitioner did lawfully and feloniously neglect Jahlil [C.], and by such neglect, caused the death of the said Jahlil [C.]," the document stated.
"Moreover, under the facts of this case, it would have been nonsensical for the State to charge (Chic-Colbert) with child neglect causing bodily injury when his victim, in fact, died."
His attorneys also argued that Chic-Colbert was not in a custodial position over Jahlil's friends, who also were in the vehicle at the time of the incident, and that the evidence presented failed to prove he was. Justices disagreed.
The Court said evidence presented at trial showed that Chic-Colbert accepted responsibility for the children based on his actions and conduct that evening. Chic-Colbert admitted during trial that he interacted with the boys while they were at Woodson's apartment where he sometimes lived. He also watched over the children while they were at the roller-skating rink at Grand Prix.
"(Chic-Colbert) clearly conducted himself as someone with authority in the Woodson home by supervising Little Ethan and Jahlil and helping Ms. Woodson look after and be responsible for all four boys while at the amusement center," the decision read.
"We find that the evidence was clearly sufficient for the jury to find that (Chic-Colbert) voluntarily assumed a supervisory role with regard to Andrew and Tyrel ... that he grossly neglected them by creating a dangerous situation on an Interstate highway through his attack upon Ms. Woodson."
Chic-Colbert testified during the trial that he believed he wasn't responsible for the boys on the Interstate because he hadn't seen any of them get out of the car. He also blamed Woodson for the events of that night, claiming that she struck him and then chased him on foot along the interstate.
"Whether the children exited the vehicle is irrelevant to (Chic-Colbert's) neglect," the Court said. "(Chic-Colbert) created a seriously dangerous situation by his attack upon Ms. Woodson, which resulted in the boys being left alone in a stopped car blocking a lane of travel on the Interstate around midnight.
"Thus, even if Jahlil, Andrew and Tyrel had remained in the car, which they did not, they would nonetheless have been at substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death."
Chic-Colbert continues to await transfer to a state prison at Eastern Regional Jail. His next parole hearing is set for Aug. 15, 2018. His projected release date is Aug. 15, 2027.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.cr...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.