Cleveland County Judge Scott Brockman decided at Thursday’s preliminary hearing to bind over Rebecca Hogue for trial.
Hogue is charged with first-degree murder through enabling child abuse in the death of her 2-year-old son Jerimiah “Ryder” Johnson. Her son died in the care of her then-boyfriend Christopher Trent on New Year’s Day. Trent hanged himself three days later.
Patricia High, Cleveland County assistant district attorney, questioned the first witness, Dr. Ryan Brown.
Brown practices child abuse pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. He was directed to look over Ryder’s pictures and the medical examiner’s findings. He went over a rule used by doctors specializing in child abuse pediatrics called the “TEN Four rule,” TEN is an acronym standing for Torso, Ear and Neck. The rule is for children under four months old who have bruising on either of those body parts.
He testified those body parts are the hardest to bruise. Significant bruising on those parts of the body alerts child abuse pedaitricians of possible abuse.
In cross examination, Hogue’s pro-bono attorney, Andrew Casey, asked if someone without extensive knowledge in child abuse pediatrics could possibly disregard these types of injuries and not find child abuse as a factor.
Brown responded by saying it is possible that a layperson may not be able to identify these injuries as red flags for child abuse.
The second witness the state called was Diane Hogue, Rebecca’s mother. Diane broke into tears multiple times while on the witness stand.
Diane testified seeing Trent physically discipline Ryder one time by “swatting his hand.” She said that Rebecca came down the stairs after the discipline took place and “got onto Trent” and told him not to do that again.
Near the end of the state’s questioning of the witness, Diane touched on Trent’s suicide and provided her opinion on the charges her daughter is facing.
“Since they can’t do anything to [Trent], I feel like they’re trying to throw my daughter under the bus,” Diane testified.
Diane said that she told Rebecca on multiple occasions that she did not like Trent.
Multiple Norman Police Department officers who responded to the 911 call on Jan. 1 testified at the hearing.
The officers testified Hogue was kneeling at the body of Ryder when they responded. From the injuries they saw while at the crime scene, the officers also stated that they did not automatically suspect child abuse to be a factor in Ryder’s death.
One of the officers who testified was Michael Lauderback, an NPD master police officer. He testified to writing his report on March 30, nearly three months after Ryder’s death. He also testified he did not review his body cam footage before writing his report.
“I wrote a poor report,” Lauderback testified. “ … I felt like my part in this whole case was very very small. I admit I did a poor job.”
Detective Dakota Cook of NPD, who was responsible for downloading the contents of Hogue’s phone, testified that he obtained multiple text messages between Hogue and Trent that raised concern for the ADAs.
In the messages, Hogue sent pictures of injuries Ryder had on his head to Trent asking what had happened.
The final witness of the hearing was NPD Detective Ryan Bruehl, who was only involved with the case for the first two days and conducted three interviews. Bruehl testified on multiple injuries Ryder had that occurred on three separate days:
- Dec. 15: Hogue came home and Ryder was laying on the floor next to the bed. Hogue attributed that injury to Ryder hitting his head on the bed frame as he fell out of the bed. During the time that injury occurred, Ryder was in the sole care of Trent.
- Dec. 19: A bruise was found on Ryder’s ear.
- Dec. 29: Photos of Ryder’s injuries were sent to Trent. Bruehl testified he was told by Hogue that Ryder was vomiting, weak, had redness and couldn’t turn his head. Hogue thought he might have the flu. When she told Trent she wanted to take Ryder to the doctor, Trent told her no and just to give him a bath. During the bath, Ryder was “lethargic” and wouldn’t sit up.
Bruehl testified that Hogue said she had never been around child abuse, so she didn’t know how to recognize it. Bruehl was then shown by the state two PDF’s that Hogue had read both in regards to signs of child abuse.
Casey said Hogue took Ryder to Dr. Jeffery Sparkman on Dec. 19 after Ryder sprayed something in his own eye, Dec. 19 was the day a bruise was found on Ryder’s ear, but Sparkman did not raise any concern. Bruehl testified that nobody from NPD talked to Sparkman.
In redirect, High asked Bruehl if it was unreasonable to assume that if Hogue would have gotten a different babysitter, Ryder would still be alive. Bruehl agreed with High that if Hogue would have not left Ryder with Trent, then he would still be alive.
In closing statements, High explained why the “Failure to Protect” laws are in place.
“The purpose behind these laws is because children such as Ryder Johnson can’t protect themselves,” High said. “So to think that we would have a standard that a person responsible for the child’s health or safety, such as Ms.Hogue his parent, had to know that abuse was occurring before they had any responsibility to step in on behalf of that child is ludicrous. And that’s why the standard is ‘knew or reasonably should have known that a child could be placed at risk of abuse of neglect.’”
The “what if” questions were not sustainable, Casey said in his closing statement.
“I could sit here and come up with a million different things that could have come differently,” Casey said. “She could have worked another job. … She could have just never dated Christopher Trent, she could have spent money that she didn’t have and paid babysitters. This is an awful way to characterize the burden that we place on mothers as to what it is that they did or did not do wrong.”
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