The West Virginia Medical Examiner reportedly relied on Child Protective Services (CPS) records in 2019 when determining the cause of death for 8-year-old Raylee Browning of Oak Hill, defense attorneys told Fayette County Circuit Court Judge Paul Blake Jr. on Monday during a pre-trial hearing of the trio accused of causing the girl’s death.
It is highly unusual for a medical examiner to rely on CPS records when determining the cause of death, Blake and special prosecutor Brian Parsons said.
Raylee died at Plateau Medical Center in Oak Hill on Dec. 26, 2018, of rare complications caused by untreated pneumonia, according to the medical examiner.
Her father, Marty Browning Jr., along with his wife, Julie Titchenell Browning of Hilltop, and Julie’s sister, Sherie Titchenell, were arrested for Raylee’s death in December 2019, all on one charge each of death of a child by a parent, guardian or custodian. Each was also charged with abuse and neglect of a child resulting in death. Both charges are felonies.
The three defendants are set to go to trial together on Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. before Blake.
They each appeared with their attorneys for a pre-trial hearing on Monday.
Blake granted a motion made by defense attorney Steve Mancini to provide an expert witness, a pathologist chosen by the defense, with the same records that the State Medical Examiner used when determining cause of death. Those records include CPS files, medical records and interviews with another child who lived in the home with Raylee.
Mancini represents the victim’s father. Julie’s attorney Mark Plantz and Sherie’s attorney Evan Dove also asked the judge to release the records to the defense’s expert witness.
Fayette officials reported in 2019 that the three defendants were arrested nearly a year after Raylee’s death because police were waiting on the Medical Examiner’s Office to conclude its autopsy and release findings on cause and manner of death.
They were also slowed because West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR) initially refused to provide CPS records to the police, two officials reported in 2019.
The State Medical Examiner’s Office ruled in the report that Raylee likely died of severe and rare complications caused by untreated pneumonia but did not find the manner of death.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Allen Mock noted in the report that past abuse was a likely factor. The medical examiner’s report cited CPS interviews provided by Raylee and by another child who lived in the house with Raylee.
Blake had previously ruled that jurors will not be permitted to see the entire report.
“I recall the delay in getting the opinion of the State Medical Examiner’s Office regarding cause of death of this child and wanting records from CPS and such,” Blake noted Tuesday. “It’s highly unusual that a medical examiner would ask for that information ... but he did.
“It appears that certain of that information is not going to be permissible.
“I think, to be fair, the information that was given to Dr. Mock, that he used to form his opinion in this matter, should, in all fairness, be disclosed to the defense expert for him, in formulating his opinion, so they’re both on equal ground.”
Each defendant is accused of torturing Raylee and causing her death.
Raylee died on Dec. 26, 2018, at Plateau Medical Center. Medical staff also reported multiple bruises, burns and lacerations on the girl’s body and a tear in her rectum.
Defense attorneys also told Blake that special prosecuting attorney Brian Parsons has called two additional experts, including Dr. Joan Phillips, a child abuse expert at Charleston Area Medical Center, to testify during the trial. Phillips had previously examined Raylee’s medical records, prior to the arrests of the girl’s dad and the two women.
Phillips’ opinion, which appeared in the criminal complaint against the three defendants, was that Raylee was possibly a victim of medical abuse, which occurs when a caretaker reports false symptoms to a child’s medical providers, resulting in a false diagnosis and unnecessary medications and treatments.
“The state’s got two more experts, your Honor,” said Dove. “We’re awaiting their reports.
“With that said, we basically have one expert to the state’s three, potentially four experts, at this time.
“We’re still waiting on reports for two. By the end of this week, we’ll likely have another motion to continue.”
The trial has been continued twice.
Parsons asked for a “rather elongated motions hearing to resolve those issues.”
Blake set a motions hearing for Friday, Oct. 8 at 11 a.m.
“The court is trying to move this thing along in orderly fashion, and this case ... in 2022, it’s going to be two years old,” Blake told the attorneys. “I think any motions that are outstanding, that you want heard, need to be scheduled.”
Although the adults reported that Raylee did self-harm and had behavioral problems, a concerned grandmother of a classmate and Raylee’s teacher in Nicholas County had both notified CPS that they believed Raylee was the victim of abuse. None of Raylee’s teachers reported that she had shown bad behavior.
Raylee was under the care of Child Protective Services (CPS) when she died.
Raylee’s mother, Janice Wriston, reported that Raylee told her she was being abused and that she asked Wriston not to make her return to her father’s house. Wriston said she had reported to law enforcement and family court judges that the girl was being abused but that she was forced by the state to return her daughter to the father.
Wriston’s attorney, Anthony Salvatore of Fayetteville, has since sued the State of West Virginia and WVDHHR in United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia for reportedly placing Raylee in danger and then failing to protect her and for allegedly falsifying and hiding her CPS records to cover the agency’s negligence.