A Kanawha County jury found a man guilty of beating his girlfriend in the middle of Interstate 77 and neglecting an 11-year-old child who later was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle.
In their July 10 verdict, the jury found Ethan Chic-Colbert guilty of domestic battery, child neglect by a parent guardian or custodian resulting in the death of a child and gross child neglect creating the risk of serious bodily injury or death.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom dismissed charges of kidnapping and murder earlier that day, saying the state did not provide sufficient evidence to support the kidnapping. Thus, the murder charge could not stand.
"We knew it was a close case going into it," assistant Kanawha County prosecutor Dan Holstein said after the trial. "But there are some cases where you just have to go for it."
Although pleased with the verdict, assistant Kanawha County prosecutor Tera Salango said she wished the other two counts were not dismissed.
"I'm very pleased, very happy and relieved that we could get justice for Jahlil's (Clements) family and for the other little boys who were involved in this," Salango said referring to two of Clements friends who were sitting in the backseat of the car when the altercation took place. "We obviously felt that there was enough evidence to proceed with the kidnapping and murder charges. … We also understood that it certainly was a possibility that it would be thrown out on directed verdict motion."
"I believe there was a kidnapping and that Jahlil's death was a direct result of that kidnapping. I also understood the judge and his decision," Salango added.
Salango said Chic-Colbert could face a maximum of six to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 15.
"I hope it will provide some closure. I think justice was served to the extent it could be under the law," she said.
"He had a lot of nerve", said Latasha Nappier, Jahlil Clement's cousin. "The jury seen that he didn't know what he was talking about. He tried to change it up."
Chic-Colbert's aunt, Jamie Bumpus was not happy with the verdict, however.
"My reaction is that we have overzealous prosecution who hasn't a clue as to what's going on," Bumpus said. "As far as I'm concerned, they set their cases on hearsay."
Bumpus said she thought both were to blame.
"It was both of their faults. They were going to fight no matter where — whether it was at home. This is what they do. They've been fighting ever since they got together," she said.
Bumpus said she was happy the other two charges were dismissed saying prosecutors shouldn't have added those charges in the first place.
"It wasn't murder. It wasn't kidnapping. … They had no business putting that in there," she said. "I feel sorry for her but at the same time, you're as much to blame as he is."
Earlier that day, Chic-Colbert took the stand and testified he did not hit his girlfriend, Lynitrah Woodson. He also said he did not see the car strike Clements.
Chic-Colbert testified "tension" started building up when he and Woodson took Clements and his friends to the skate rink. He said Woodson became jealous when he was talking to other women.
Woodson's testimony differed, however. Woodson said Chic-Colbert became angry when he saw her talking to a couple at the skate rink.
"He asked, ‘why are you talking to that guy instead of talking to him,'" she testified. "I asked why he would be mad that I was talking to a couple."
In his cross examination of Woodson, Chic-Colbert's attorney Justin Collins asked if she recalled statements she gave to the police three days after the accident. He asked her if she had originally said she didn't know what caused the fight.
Woodson responded she didn't remember these statements.
The physical fight began, Woodson further testified, when they were pulling around the drive through of a local restaurant.
"His leg was shaking. … He got of the phone with his brother and said ‘God forgive me,'" she said.
After leaving a local restaurant, Chic-Colbert said Woodson started slapping him in the face. Chic-Colbert testified he told Woodson he wanted to go to his aunt's house and said this made Woodson mad.
"She pulled over, hit me over the head with her phone and told me to get out of the car," he said, noting the car was halfway in the road.
However, Woodson maintained Chic-Colbert struck her when she said she would call her mother, after she said she repeatedly told him he would not come home with her that night.
Collins also asked if Woodson remembered Chic-Colbert telling her of his desire to go to his aunt's house that night. She said he didn't ask to go to his aunt's house but Collins asked if she remembered telling police of that conversation. She said she did not remember telling police that story.
"In four months I have had time to think about the little things rather than three days," she said. "My son was dead. I was not worried about the argument we had."
Chic-Colbert said Woodson grabbed him as he tried to get out of the car and said the fight continued in the middle of the road. To make her stop, he said he slammed her against the ground.
In his cross examination, Holstein asked why Chic-Colbert slammed Woodson against the ground. Chic-Colbert responded he was defending himself.
In her testimony, Woodson said she blacked out and hit the median. When she woke up, she continued, she saw Chic-Colbert trying to fight her.
"He had a hold of my hair and my arm and was just pulling with all his might," she said.
When he left the scene, Chic-Colbert said he did not see Jahlil get hit but he said he heard Woodson yelling at him over the guardrail, saying "you're going to jail."
Holstein also asked in his cross examination why Chic-Colbert took off his pants after leaving the fight. Chic Colbert said Woodson was chasing him and his pants kept falling down and slowed his pace.
Police later discovered the blue jeans beside the road containing his wallet and photo id.
However, Woodson said she was hysterical, running out of the middle of the interstate toward the guardrail when she later heard the other children yelling Clement's name.
"I tried to walk toward my baby. I looked again at the car in the middle of the Interstate with my infant in it. What could I do? What could I do? I couldn't do anything."