Prosecutors get OK to interview investigator

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 18, 2013 

Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor ruled Thursday that prosecutors can interview the lead defense investigator in the manslaughter case against a Richland nanny only if defense lawyers intend to call him.

A hospital chaplain whom Kelli Anne Jacobsen, 28, talked to shortly after 1-year-old Ryder Morrison suffered deadly injuries also remains a potential witness.

If a decision is made to call defense investigator Win Taylor, prosecutors must be given a chance to interview him as soon as possible, the judge said. Jury selection in the trial starts Monday.

"When I say, 'soon as possible,' I mean not just two minutes before he is going to be called," VanderSchoor said.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller argued that he has a right to interview Taylor because he is on the witness list, but the defense objected, saying Taylor only has impeachment evidence, used to question the credibility of other witnesses.

"I just want to make sure that we aren't going to have any improprieties between now and trial," Miller said in court Thursday.

Defense attorney Scott Johnson said that notes taken in pretrial interviews from defense attorneys or investigators are not subject to disclosure before the trial, though they can be disclosed during the trial if an attorney or investigator is called as a witness. He said he only would call Taylor to the stand if he needed to contradict testimony from prosecution witnesses, something he won't know if he has to do until the trial starts.

"I think there's some flawed logic in the state's argument," Johnson said. "If you take the argument to its conclusion, what you end up with is the state thinks it has the right to interview me, which is absurd."

Miller told the judge that potential concerns involving Kadlec Medical Center chaplain Amy Hoyt were eased after he interviewed her Wednesday. Hoyt talked to Jacobsen shortly after Ryder was taken to the hospital, where Ryder died in surgery for head trauma the day after his first birthday. Jacobsen had been hired to watch Ryder.

The prosecution filed a motion Tuesday asking to be able to interview Hoyt. While Miller doesn't plan to call Hoyt himself, the motion said that he needed to talk to her in case the defense called her, something it has been noncommittal about.

Attorneys also agreed to a compromise over some questions potential jurors will be asked. While the defense wanted to be able to ask jurors the names, ages and jobs of their children and grandchildren, they ultimately decided only to ask how many children and grandchildren a potential juror has and how old they are.

They also agreed to write a two-to-three sentence synopsis of the case for jurors to hear. VanderSchoor will read the information to jurors during the selection process.

Around 140 residents will be called as potential jurors in the first-degree manslaughter trial. The charge against Jacobsen includes aggravating circumstances alleging Ryder was particularly vulnerable, incapable of resistance and his death had a destructive and foreseeable impact on others.

Jacobsen has denied recklessly causing Ryder's death.

Ryder's mother, Tawney Johnson, saw her son when she went home for lunch on June 22, 2011, and returned to work by noon. At 12:14 p.m., Jacobsen called 911 and told authorities Ryder fell when she was in the kitchen getting him a snack, court documents said. She said she went into the living room and found Ryder on his back.

Emergency room doctors at Kadlec in Richland have said the boy's injuries, including a brain bleed, were inconsistent with the nanny's story, documents said.

Investigators had a pediatrician at Children's Hospital in Seattle review the boy's autopsy and medical records. They reportedly concluded that injuries like Ryder had are normally caused by severe whiplash that also can cause neck muscle and spinal cord bleeding.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com

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