The mother of two Licking brothers who drowned in August 2009 will face charges in their deaths after she was found criminally negligent last week by a coroner’s jury.
Shortly after the verdict was read Friday afternoon inside the Texas County Justice Center, Prosecutor Michael Anderson said he would file charges in 7-10 days against Jennifer Bagley. Anderson said charges against Bagley could range from endangering the welfare of a child to manslaughter.
“I’ll look at the records again and take the jury’s recommendation into consideration before I make that decision,” Anderson said. “Frankly, I didn’t make up my mind until the jury helped me make up my mind.”
Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker said there were “lingering questions surrounding the deaths” when he announced the inquest. It was just the second of his 13-year career as coroner.
It took a jury of six — three male and three female — just over an hour to render Bagley responsible for her sons’ deaths.
Law enforcement officials testified that Bagley was responsible for watching Jesse James Bagley, 7, and his 4-year-old brother, Wyatt Earp Bagley, when they disappeared Aug. 9 behind their home in remote northwest Texas County. An overnight search that included as many as 300 people ended the following morning when their bodies were discovered in the Big Piney River about 200 yards away from the home.
Jennifer Bagley was described as “indifferent” when the boys were missing — one of the 30 times they and their 3-year-old sister had wandered off in previous year, according to Warren Wiedemann, a criminal investigator with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Authorities said Bagley did not assist with the search and showed little emotion throughout the night, including when she was told the boys had drowned.
“She did not show a lot of concern — certainly not the concern a mother should show if she has two children missing. She just didn’t seem to care for what reason we were there,” Watson said.
Wiedemann testified that Bagley, who had an argument with her father earlier in the day, left the home she shared with her parents early in the morning Aug. 9 for the detached kitchen in the backyard. She sat on a stool and made a beaded keychain for her boyfriend as all three children played in the yard.
At one point, Bagley’s father, John Coleman, told her she should move to have a better view of the kids, according to Wiedemann. She didn’t. John Coleman returned to the home and locked the door, Wiedemann said, to assure Bagley would watch the children.
Bagley, who initially told investigators she checked on her children every 5-10 minutes before saying she checked on them 10 times the entire day, said an hour passed without her seeing the kids. The 3-year-old girl, Belle, came to the kitchen from the direction of the river with wet jeans up to her thigh. Wiedemann said Bagley told Belle to change clothes and continued her bead work. Twenty minutes passed before Bagley began looking for the boys.
During a one-hour search for Jesse and Wyatt, Wiedemann said Bagley came across four people in the river. She told Wiedemann she didn’t ask about her boys because “she didn’t want to get in trouble.”
Bagley told investigators that 1 hour, 30 minutes passed before she made the 911 call for help. Authorities received it at 5:21 p.m.
Wiedemann said Bagley told him the children often wandered away from the home on Hazelton Drive. She once found them half a mile away. A neighbor, who lives 0.3 miles from the home, told Wiedemann he had twice found the children in his yard when he woke up in the morning. He described them as “unkept and usually dirty.”
The neighbor told Wiedemann he heard the kids playing the day they disappeared. He also heard what he believed was an unusual scream between 3:30 and 4 p.m. that lasted about two minutes.
The jury, which along with Whittaker was allowed to ask questions to witnesses, inquired why Bagley hadn’t heard any screams. Wiedemann said two loud fans were in the kitchen where she sat.
Wiedemann described Bagley’s demeanor as “matter-of-factly” as authorities and volunteers combed the wooded area surrounding the house by foot, boot, ATV and helicopter.
“She said she had a bad feeling, like when she found out her boyfriend had cheated on her,” Wiedemann said.
Texas County Deputy Michael Huffman, who was the first responder when the boys were reported missing, said Bagley “appeared to be indifferent to the situation.”
“She didn’t have the care and concern that a mother should have when her children are missing, in my opinion,” said Huffman.
Whittaker, who testified first, provided autopsies with the note “homicide due to death” from Keith N. Norton, M.D., a forensic pathologist. Whittaker said the note was merely Norton’s opinion.
Following 2 ½ hours of testimony, Anderson presented a blood test to the jury that was taken after the boys were found dead. He said Bagley tested positive for pain medication. She told authorities she took it after the boys’ bodies were discovered.
As he gave the jury its final instructions, Anderson said although he was not bound by their decision, he would likely follow it. He said there was no doubt that Bagley was a bad mother. The question was if Jesse and Wyatt dying was a tragic accident or felony crime.
In just over an hour, the jury held Jennifer Bagley responsible.
Anderson said a criminal trial will include the same evidence presented to the coroner’s jury.
“We showed the jury everything that we had,” he said.