PORT ANGELES — Ramona Jean Ward will have to wait until June 4 for her murder trial, which is scheduled 19 months after she was arrested in connection with the death of a 2½-year-old boy under her care.
Waiting, too, will be children who said they witnessed the violence and, according to the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, will be testifying against Ward at her scheduled six-week trial.
Superior Court Judge Christopher Melly on Tuesday delayed the Forks woman’s trial date from Jan. 8 to five months later at the request of Port Angeles lawyer John Hayden of Clallam Public Defender.
Ward, 45, a Forks resident and Quileute tribal member, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder-domestic violence and homicide by abuse in connection with the Nov. 11, 2016 death of Isaac Ward, who was born May 8, 2014.
Ramona Ward, whose arrest warrant was issued the same day Isaac Ward died, objected Tuesday to delaying her trial to June.
She was removed from the courtroom after an “outburst,” according to court records.
If found guilty, Ward faces a statutory maximum term of life in prison.
Isaac Ward’s grandmother, Dana Williams of La Push, who has been attending most of Ward’s court hearings, said Friday she is disappointed by the delay.
“I’m taking one day at a time,” Williams said. “I’m not a hater.”
Michele Devlin, county criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, said she will call at least 30 witnesses, including children whom court records say were among the seven who lived in Ramona Ward’s home.
Three of the children — who are now 11, 12 and 13 — told authorities they saw Ramona Ward hit, kick, push and slap Isaac, who had multiple injuries, including brain swelling, malnutrition and a four-to-six-week-old broken clavicle, when he died, according to court records.
Hayden last week did not return calls or an email seeking comment on the reason behind his request for the delay.
Harry Gasnick of Clallam Public Defender is working with Hayden on Ward’s defense.
Devlin said the reason given in court for the delay was that Gasnick has been working on Clallam Public Defender’s contract with Clallam County officials and has been unable to sufficiently assist Hayden.
“I don’t think that was the primary reason,” Gasnick said last week. “That was one of the reasons that was presented.
“I will have to defer to John.”
Devlin said the prosecuting attorney’s office “objected strenuously” to the delay.
“We argued in court that we wanted to avoid trauma to the children who were witnesses,” Devlin said. “They have to keep waiting and waiting and having it hanging over their head.”
The prosecuting attorney’s office had proposed a plea deal for Ramona Ward that Hayden rejected Nov. 15.
Ward would have pleaded guilty solely to homicide by abuse-domestic violence, which would have a standard sentence range of 20 to 26.6 years.
She would have been required to have no contact with any of the children in the home at the time of the homicide, who include her grandchildren.
She also would have had to agree to not have her lawyer interview the child witnesses at trial.
Ward, who was addicted to oxycodone at the time of her arrest, was taking care of Isaac Ward when he died two days later after emergency personnel responded to her 9-1-1 call that the child was unresponsive.
Quileute Indian Child Welfare Services had placed Isaac in the custody of Michelle Ward, Ramona Ward’s 28-year-old daughter, a former Quileute social services worker who lived with her three children in Ramona Ward’s mobile home in Forks at the time of Isaac Ward’s death.
Isaac’s mother is Michelle Ward’s cousin.
Ramona Ward told authorities she had physically abused Isaac Ward every four days for two of the six months that Isaac Ward was in her daughter’s custody, according to court records.
The admissibility at trial of Ramona Ward’s statements will be ruled on following a Superior Court hearing.
Michelle Ward, who has child-care-provider child-abuse-reporter training, said she did not see signs of abuse.
Investigators said blood was found throughout the three-bedroom home, where seven children and three adults lived, according to court records.
Michelle Ward will avoid prosecution and up to 15 years in prison on a charge of second-degree manslaughter and drug solicitation by fulfilling a plea deal she made with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to testify against her mother.
Under the agreement, she will plead guilty to second-degree criminal mistreatment and delivery of a controlled substance, oxycodone, to her mother.
Instead of prison time, she will spend three to six months in a residential drug and alcohol treatment center followed by 24 months of probation.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].