Parents accused in child's death appear in court

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BELOIT - Two Beloit parents charged in the March 2017 death of their 7-week-old son appeared in court on Wednesday, with the father being denied a bond modification.

Deanthony C. Hodges, 32, is charged with first-degree reckless homicide and has been in custody during the two-year legal process, while the mother, Jessica A. Nelson, 30, who is charged with child neglect resulting in death and 15 counts of felony bail jumping, has been out on a $375 cash bond since March 21. Nelson's bond was lowered from $1,500 to $375 on Feb. 12, according to court records.

Both Hodges and Nelson have pleaded not guilty in the death of Amanii Hodges, who was found unresponsive on March 20, 2017 at a home in the 700 block of Euclid Avenue. According to medical records provided to the court, Amanii died as a result of homicidal abusive head trauma, with Children's Hospital of Wisconsin abuse pediatrician Hillary Petska telling authorities Amanii appeared to receive the severe head injuries close to the time symptoms were reported by Hodges to Nelson, before emergency medical personnel were contacted at 1:58 p.m. on the March 20 date, according to dispatch records. Petska said the force needed to cause the injuries she observed would be consistent with that of a high speed traffic crash in which an individual is unrestrained, court records show.

Hodges told police he had been watching Amanii since Nelson left for work at around 6:15 a.m. on March 20, 2017. Hodges also told investigators he attempted to feed Amanii while he was playing a video game and Amanii sat near him in a bouncy seat. As he gave the bottle to Amanii, the baby "closed his eyes and became unresponsive." Hodges also told officers he did not strike Amanii or let him fall, according to court records.

Nelson appeared briefly with defense attorney Philip Brehm after Hodges' appearance. Both were given status conference hearing dates set for 9 a.m. on July 2. Neither case has been set for a plea hearing or trial as of Thursday morning.

Defense attorneys Matthew Lantta and Ashley Morse argued that Hodges' cash bond of $20,500 was too high and should be lowered to $5,000. Lantta said the discrepancy between Hodges' bond and Nelson's was "significant." During the case, former defense attorney for Hodges, Josh Klaff, filed a motion for an earlier bond modification in May of 2017, with the motion also being denied.

Assistant District Attorney Richard Sullivan said the defense's argument was "the biggest red herring argument I've ever heard."

Judge Barbara McCrory said the case was "complicated," but said a bond modification for Hodges would not be granted due to the severity of the homicide charge Hodges is facing, but also due to the fact both Nelson and Hodges had disregarded no-contact orders for each of their cases and remained in communication.

McCrory said she was aware of communication between the parents that was intercepted by Rock County Jail staff that showed the pair were exchanging phone calls that appeared to plan how to get around the no-contact orders.

Lantta added the defense had reached "an impasse" related to independent evidence testing ahead of future court hearings. On Feb. 28, McCrory ordered all final discovery evidence be provided by March 19. In the bond modification motion filed on April 30, Hodges' defense team noted that the state had not yet turned over all evidence in possession of the Dane County Medical Examiner's Office, while the Dane County office had refused to allow the defense to perform an independent medical examination of the evidence held at the facility related to the case.

Sullivan said some of the evidence was still in possession of the medical examiner's office due to chain of custody concerns, claiming the evidence would not be able to be used in court if taken off site. To compound the evidence discovery delay, Lantta said an expert medical witness hired by the defense had been unavailable due to a medical emergency to coordinate with Dane County Chief Medical Examiner Vincent Tranchida for an independent review of the evidence.

"I understand that it is taking some time," McCrory said. "It's complicated because it is driven by medical testimony that is going to have to come in. I do not envy the jury having to work that out. It's going to be difficult."

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