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Schooler v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 19, 2018

Jennifer Schooler, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

         Appeal from the Ripley Circuit Court The Honorable Ryan King, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 69C01-1607-MR-001

          Attorney for Appellant Leanna Weissmann Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana J.T. Whitehead Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana.

          Vaidik, Chief Judge.

         [¶1] Jennifer Schooler was convicted of murder and Level 6 felony neglect of a dependent for killing her boyfriend's three-year-old son and failing to seek medical treatment for him, and the trial court sentenced her to maximum and consecutive sentences. Schooler now appeals, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to prove that she is the one who caused the three-year-old's fatal brain injuries and that her sentence is inappropriate. Concluding that the evidence is sufficient to show that Schooler is the one who inflicted the three-year-old's fatal brain injuries and that her sentence is not inappropriate, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] The evidence most favorable to the verdicts is that in August 2015, Schooler and Thomas Chadwell were dating and lived together in an apartment in Batesville along with Chadwell's children, three-year-old Bradyn and ten-year-old Cheyenne. The children's mother, Amanda Chadwell, was incarcerated on theft and burglary charges in Carroll County, Kentucky, where she had been since May 14, 2015. Chadwell worked five to seven days a week at a factory in Greensburg, and Schooler watched the children, particularly Bradyn, who was not yet in school, while Chadwell worked. According to Schooler, she took care of Bradyn and Cheyenne "twenty-four-seven." Tr. Vol. III p. 46.

         [¶3] Wednesday, August 12 was a school day for Cheyenne. When she woke up that day, Bradyn was already playing with his blocks. As Cheyenne walked outside to wait for the bus, she told Bradyn, "Bye, I love you bubby." Tr. Vol. IV p. 61. Bradyn responded, "Bye, Shine, " which was what he called Cheyenne because he could not say her name. Id. According to Cheyenne, there was nothing "out of the ordinary" or "weird" with Bradyn when she left. Id. She then got on the bus and went to school "like every other day." Id.

         [¶4] Schooler, Chadwell, and Bradyn were all home together until 1:00 p.m., when Chadwell left for work. Beginning at 1:19 p.m., Schooler called Chadwell several times; the phone calls between them totaled about nine minutes. Tr. Vol. III p. 153. Schooler called 911 at 1:34 p.m.

         [¶5] According to the 911 call, Schooler reported that there was a three-year-old "not breathing" on "the bedroom floor." Exs. 6 (transcript of 911 call) & 11 (recording of 911 call); Tr. Vol. III pp. 237-38. Schooler initially told the 911 dispatcher that she "just got [Bradyn] out of bed." Exs. 6 & 11; Tr. Vol. III p. 238. Schooler then said that Bradyn "hit his head on the, on the side of the dr-dresser, er, the fish tank thing" and went unresponsive. Exs. 6 & 11; Tr. Vol. III p. 239. The 911 dispatcher told Schooler to perform CPR and provided step-by-step instructions. In the meantime, at 1:35 p.m., Ripley County EMS received a call about "a three year old child not breathing." Tr. Vol. II p. 228. Paramedic April Jarrett and her partner (who was an EMT) arrived at the apartment at 1:38 p.m. Because of the nature of the call, a second paramedic in a chase truck also responded. Schooler was still on the phone with the 911 dispatcher counting chest compressions out loud when EMS arrived, and she can be overhead telling EMS that Bradyn was talking "[a] few minutes ago" and then "he just fell over." Exs. 6 & 11; Tr. Vol. III p. 241. When EMS asked Schooler about Bradyn's history, she responded that "his mother is in jail for child abuse" and mentioned that his mother had a "metal paddle in the car." Exs. 6 & 11; Tr. Vol. III pp. 241-42. Schooler then elaborated that Bradyn's mother had custody of him "since birth" and that they just got Bradyn from her "[y]esterday." Exs. 6 & 11; Tr. Vol. III p. 242. She said that Bradyn was "dehydrated" when they got him. Id. EMS asked Schooler if Bradyn had the bruises on his face "whenever he c[a]me back from mom, " and Schooler responded yes. Id. Finally, EMS asked Schooler if Bradyn fell "today, " and Schooler responded, "No, when [Bradyn's mother] had him." Id.

         [¶6] According to Jarrett, when she first walked into the apartment, she saw "[Bradyn] laying on the floor" in the living-room area (not the bedroom, like Schooler reported in the 911 call) about ten steps from the front door and Schooler "kneeling next to him." Tr. Vol. II p. 230. Schooler was not performing CPR, although she was counting chest compressions out loud on the phone to the 911 dispatcher at that time. Tr. Vol. III pp. 6-7; see also Exs. 6 & 11 (Schooler counting out loud to the 911 operator as EMS entered the apartment and continuing to count after EMS entered). Jarrett immediately felt for a pulse on Bradyn. Finding none, the first responders started chest compressions to start his heart and used an "ambu bag" to get air into his lungs. Tr. Vol. II p. 232. Jarrett noted that Bradyn was "[b]lue-ish-gray" and had bruising on his face. Id. Jarrett asked Schooler what happened to Bradyn, and Schooler said that Bradyn had been "acting fine and was running around and playing." Id. However, he "hit his head on [the] fish tank about 15 minutes before [be]coming unresponsive." Id. at 233. Jarrett asked Schooler where Bradyn got the bruises, and Schooler responded that Bradyn had the bruises when they got him from his mother the Friday before (five days earlier). Id. at 239; Tr. Vol. III pp. 2-3.

         [¶7] After extensive medical interventions by EMS, including delivering two doses of epinephrine directly into Bradyn's bone marrow, Bradyn finally had a pulse, although he still was not breathing on his own. EMS transported Bradyn to Margaret Mary Hospital in Batesville, arriving at 1:54 p.m. After a short stay at this hospital, EMS transferred Bradyn to the high school, where a helicopter picked him up at 2:17 p.m. to take him to Cincinnati Children's Hospital. During her treatment of Bradyn, when he was wearing only a diaper, Jarrett observed the following injuries to him: bruising on both cheeks resembling the shapes of fingers, a scratch above his left eye, a large bruise to his right eye, large bruises (yellow in color) to his left upper arm, bruising to the top inner thighs that were in varying stages of healing, a bruise the size of a silver dollar below his left shoulder blade, a bruise to his right lower flank area, and bruising to his upper center chest. Tr. Vol. III p. 2.

         [¶8] Because of the seriousness of the 911 call, all available Batesville Police Department officers responded to the apartment, including Chief of Police Stanley Holt and Detective Blake Roope. Detective Roope then went to Margaret Mary Hospital, where he spoke with Schooler "within [an] hour of the 911 call" "while the details of that day [were] fresh in her mind." Id. at 25.

         [¶9] During the interview, Schooler told Detective Roope that she was Bradyn's "primary caretaker." Id. at 29. She said that Bradyn woke up around 10 a.m., at which point she made him breakfast, an egg sandwich. She said there was "nothing out of the ordinary" with Bradyn that morning. Id. at 31. Schooler said that Chadwell left for work at 1:00 p.m. and that about forty minutes after Chadwell left, Bradyn was chasing the cat when he tripped, fell, and hit the corner of his left eye on "the bottom left corner" of the fish-tank stand. Id. at 43. Schooler said that Bradyn got a small scratch on the corner of his left eye, which bled "a little." Id. at 36. She asked Bradyn if he was okay, and he nodded yes. However, about thirty minutes after the fall, Schooler said that Bradyn was sitting on the floor in the living-room area playing with the cat when he "slumped to his left side" with his eyes open. Id. at 38. She then laid him flat on his back. According to Schooler, she then called Chadwell to tell him that Bradyn had fallen and hit the fish-tank stand and that "something was wrong with [him]." Id. at 39. Schooler said that she spoke with Chadwell for "six seconds" and that he told her to call 911, which she immediately did. Id. at 40.

         [¶10] Schooler also told Detective Roope about another injury to Bradyn. That is, a "couple of weeks" ago, Cheyenne accidentally knocked Bradyn over, causing him to hit the back of his head against a "floor heater" in the bedroom. Id. at 44. Schooler checked Bradyn's head but found "nothing." Id. According to Schooler, these were the only two accidents that could have injured Bradyn.

         [¶11] Detective Roope then asked Schooler if she had ever spanked Bradyn, and she claimed that she had "never" spanked Bradyn-or any child for that matter- and specifically noted that Bradyn "was not a discipline issue." Id. at 47. She also said that she had never seen Chadwell spank Bradyn either. When Detective Roope inquired about the bruises on Bradyn's body, Schooler responded that Bradyn had been injured (including a bite to his finger and a playground incident that resulted in a bruise to the left side of his forehead) while he was in the care of his mother, Amanda, and that Bradyn had these injuries when she and Chadwell got Bradyn from Amanda "two months" ago. Id. at 49. Detective Roope asked Schooler if she reported the injuries to the Department of Child Services, and Schooler said yes. However, Schooler could not remember the caseworker's name. Upon further questioning about the alleged DCS report, Schooler's timeline suddenly "shifted, " and she claimed that they got Bradyn from Amanda two weeks ago (not two months). Id. at 50. Detective Roope later ...

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