PORT ANGELES — A plea agreement in the works that centers on the Nov. 11, 2016, child-abuse death of a 2½-year-old Forks boy and Quileute tribal member will pit daughter against mother at the mother’s murder trial early next year.
As part of the agreement, Michelle Ann Ward, 28, of Forks has agreed to testify against her mother, Ramona Jean Ward, 45, of Forks, at Ramona Ward’s scheduled six-week murder trial Jan. 8, Michelle Ward’s lawyer, Ralph Anderson of Port Angeles, said Friday.
After a brief hearing Friday, Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer set 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, for a change-of-plea hearing.
Michelle Ward “is a significant witness against Ramona, and she’s agreed to testify,” Anderson said.
A second-degree manslaughter-domestic violence charge, with a maximum 10-year sentence, would be dropped against his client, Anderson said.
In its place, Michelle Ward would plead guilty, Anderson said, to second-degree criminal mistreatment-domestic violence related to Isaac Ward’s death and would plead guilty to solicitation to deliver a controlled substance, oxycodone, to her mother, who told authorities she is addicted to the opioid.
Ramona Ward has been charged with homicide by abuse and second-degree murder-domestic violence.
Michelle Ward kept her mother’s prescription and provided the pills to her to prevent overuse, according to Michelle Ward’s probable-cause statement.
Her mother was out of pills for a week by Nov. 9, the day Isaac Ward’s body was found “not breathing and unresponsive,” according to the probable-cause report on Michelle’s Ward’s case.
The agreement calls for two years of probation, Anderson said.
Anderson said Michelle Ward would be sentenced to 12 to 14 months but in lieu of time in prison would undergo 90 to 180 days of treatment at a facility run by American Behavioral Health Systems, which is under a contract with the state Department of Corrections.
“She’s very motivated to be treated,” Anderson said.
The plea agreement also would spare her children having to testify in two trials related to Isaac Ward’s death, Anderson added.
“A resolution has been reached,” according to the court minutes.
Anderson said after the hearing that he is “99 percent” sure the plea agreement with Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin will be finalized at the Friday hearing.
Devlin would not discuss the terms of the agreement.
“I believe there is an agreement, but it’s not a done deal, so I don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” Devlin said.
Michelle Ward was the custodial mother of Isaac under the auspices of Indian Child Welfare Services.
The tribal agency had placed Isaac and his brothers in Michelle Ward’s care around May 5, 2016, according to a probable-cause statement.
Isaac Ward is the son of Michelle Ward’s cousin, according to court documents.
Four children of Michelle Ward’s and three other children lived at Ramona Ward’s Calawah Way home.
Ramona Ward said Isaac was the only child she abused, according to a probable-cause statement.
“She said [Isaac] could not talk. He only communicated by holding his arms up like he wanted to be held while rubbing his thumbs against his fingers as a way of communication,” according to the statement.
Isaac was found unresponsive in the home Nov. 9, 2016, six months after he was placed in Michelle Ward’s care.
Ramona Ward told authorities she shoved Isaac backward four times Nov. 9, holding him around the throat twice before pushing him down, and twice causing him to hit his head on a metal daybed and an end table.
After the third time, “[Isaac] got back to his feet, again signaling that he wanted her attention and she pushed him again; causing [Isaac] to hit his head on the metal portion of the day bed in the bedroom,” according to the statement.
She then noticed he became “sluggish,” and she put him on the bed and took a shower.
“While taking a shower, she heard [Isaac] crying but then it stopped,” according to the statement.
When she got out of the shower, Isaac was lying on the floor.
She went to the front door to let one of the children in and let the bus driver know she was home before returning to the bedroom, where Isaac “was unresponsive and not breathing,” according to the statement.
He was pronounced dead two days later at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Doctors said Isaac had internal trauma and injuries including a broken scapula and clavicle that appeared 4 to 6 weeks old, and scratches, sores and bruises over his entire body, according to the Superior Court probable-cause statement.
Ramona Ward, who has pleaded not guilty, told police she had abused Isaac over two months.
Nine different times she threw him to the floor, dropping him on his head or shoving him so he hit his head, according to the probable-cause report.
Investigators found blood in Ward’s residence that “appeared to be consistent with extensive physical abuse extended over a period of time,” county Sheriff’s Detective Brian Knutson wrote in the probable-cause statement.
“There was visible blood in nearly every room of the house,” Knutson wrote.
“The blood was in various forms including blood spatter, blood transfer, and blood seepage stains; all of which appeared to be consistent with extensive physical abuse extended over a period of time.”
Ramona Ward remained in the Clallam County jail Friday on $300,000 bail.
One of the children who lived at the house told an investigator that the mother and daughter both called Isaac, who Ramona said could not talk, “Fugly,” a combination of ugly and an obscenity.
Michelle Ward has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge.
“She did not cause any of the injuries that caused the death,” Anderson said Friday. “She was working and [the abuse] happened while she was gone.”
A probable-cause report said there was no indication that Michelle Ward physically abused the boy.
Michelle Ward said her mother was physically abusive to her when she was a child and was using drugs and alcohol then.
“Michelle maintained that she did not see Ramona physically abuse [Isaac] and when she would return home from a long day she would go straight to her bedroom without seeing any of the other children,” according to the probable-cause statement.
Isaac was seen by an occupational therapist as ordered by Indian Child Welfare Services twice; other visits were scheduled but not fulfilled, according to the probable-cause statement.
Isaac “was significantly developmentally delayed in growth and motor skill functions” as diagnosed by the therapist as of June 26, 2016, according to the statement.
Michelle Ward had received training to be a child care provider and in 2014 completed a course on mandated reporter training, according to the probable-cause statement.
“This is a training course that specifically educates participants in learning how to identify child abuse and neglect; and then report such concerns,” the statement said.
She also had certificates of completion for courses related to early childhood development.
“It is reasonable to infer that Michelle has an above average knowledge-base pertaining to childhood development,” Knutson said in the statement.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].