Joint trial mulled in 2-year-old’s death in Forks

Ramona Ward

PORT ANGELES — A mother and daughter, both Quileute tribal members, may be tried together in the death of 2½-year-old boy who died Nov. 11, two days after he was found unconscious and suffering from severe injuries.

Michelle A. Ward, 28, of Forks, the custodial mother of toddler Isaac Ward through Quileute Child Welfare Services, will be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. May 5 on a charge of second-degree manslaughter in connection with the baby’s death, Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer decided Friday in a court appearance before releasing her on her own recognizance.

Ramona Ward, 44, remained in the Clallam County jail on $300,000 bail on charges of second-degree murder and homicide by abuse-domestic violence in connection with the death of the child, who was the son of Michelle Ward’s cousin.

Ramona Ward’s six-week trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 11.

While the baby was being treated at Forks Community Hospital before being airlifted to Harborview, Ramona Ward told a deputy she had found the child face down, not breathing and unresponsive on the bedroom floor in her Forks home, according to the probable-cause statement on Michelle Ward’s manslaughter charge by Sheriff Detective Brian Knutson.

Isaac Ward “had some developmental delay issues,” did not talk, had issues with walking and had a skin infection, Michelle Ward told Sheriff’s Deputy Gene Hoagland, according to the manslaughter probable-cause document.

Harborview Medical Center and Forks Community Hospital examinations in the two days before his death showed Isaac Ward’s injuries included a 4-to-6-week-old fractured scapula and clavicle, head injuries that included a deep cut and bruising, scars and scratches on his stomach, bleeding in his brain, a distended stomach and evidence of malnutrition, according to the probable-cause report for Michelle Ward.

Ramona Ward said she was responsible for causing the baby’s lacerations and broken bones, said she intentionally dropped him and struck him, “and had been physically abusing [Isaac Ward] for about two months because she was frustrated with [Ward],” according to the complaint.

Michelle Ward is a trained child care provider who had completed a state Department of Social and Health Services course on mandatory reporting of abuse and lived at her mother’s Calawah Way residence in a 1,328-square-foot mobile home, according to the criminal complaint against her and county assessor’s office records.

Ten people lived at the home, Ramona Ward told authorities.

According to the complaint, Michelle Ward has four children of her own, while seven children, including Isaac, and a third adult, Michelle’s husband, lived at the home. It was unclear from court documents how many of Michelle Ward’s children lived at the home.

Two of Isaac Ward’s siblings also were placed in Michelle Ward’s custody, according to court records.

Ramona Ward also was the primary caretaker for Michelle Ward’s two younger sons, according to the complaint.

Bloodstains identified as belonging to Isaac Ward were found in 15 locations in the house, including walls, floors, doors, a bathtub, a bed frame and a kitchen cabinet, according to the report.

“Michelle maintained that she did not see Ramona physically abuse [Isaac Ward], 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 complaint.

Michelle Ward committed second-degree manslaughter “when she failed to be aware of the substantial risks she put [Isaac Ward] in by placing him in the care of her mother, Ramona Ward, despite knowing the substantial risks that a wrongful act may occur (such as the death of [Ward]),” according to the criminal complaint.

Second-degree manslaughter is defined under state law as when, “with criminal negligence, [a person] causes the death of another person.”

There is no indication that Michelle Ward physically abused the boy, according to the complaint.

Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin also filed a motion Friday that argued that a joint trial of the mother and daughter would ensure “a fair determination” of the charge against Michelle Ward and “judicial economy.”

Devlin said Ramona Ward’s trial will include about 30 witnesses, including three children who made statements about what they witnessed at the home and medical personnel who examined Isaac Ward after they found him unconscious.

Quileute Indian Child Welfare Manager Jessica Smith conducted spontaneous welfare checks of Isaac Ward.

“She never saw any obvious signs of physical abuse,” according to the probable-cause report for Michelle Ward.

A 13-year-old child living at the Calawah Way home “told Jessica Smith that she wanted to move because Ramona was hitting [Ward],” according to the report.

An 11-year-old child living in the home “told Jessica Smith about Ramona physically abusing [Ward] and nothing ever happened,” according to the report.

Another 11-year-old child living at the home told Smith “about Ramona ‘beating up’ [Ward] and Jessica told [the child] she was lying,” the report said.

Smith did not return repeated calls requesting comment Friday and Saturday.

When Michelle Ward asked her mother about a bruise and a missing tooth, Ramona Ward said the injuries were the results of accidentally falling at a park.

An autopsy showed the baby died of blunt force trauma two days after Ramona Ward called 9-1-1 from her home Nov. 9.

Michelle Ward said her mother physically abused her as a child and was addicted to oxycodone, according to the complaint.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.