AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the first time since her trial was delayed last year, a mother charged in connection with the death of her 2-year-old son faced a judge in another pre-trial hearing before Judge David Wahlberg.
Meagan Work pleaded not guilty to tampering with evidence and injury to a child after her son, Colton Turner, was found in a shallow grave in 2014. Her trial was originally scheduled for Oct. 30, 2017, but after a failed appeal to deem certain statements inadmissible, her defense requested more time to build its case.
Work’s defense tried to argue that her arrest was unconstitutional, but in December 2016, an appeals court ruled her statements following the arrest could be used as evidence. Those statements include a confession.
“It’s been a very long road and our family is ready for justice — ready for Colton to get what he deserves,” explained Diane Battles, Colton’s great aunt. “He does not deserve to be where he is right now. He deserved to get a chance at life, and he didn’t get that. His life was cut short because of Meagan.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, however, Work’s attorneys once again argued evidence — including statements Work made to law enforcement after she was arrested — should be thrown out. The defense argues because Work was arrested for a Class C Misdemeanor, she should have been magistrated and released but instead, she was held for days and questioned by a number of law enforcement officers.
The defense argues officers knew she would be released, so they didn’t magistrate her immediately.
“They wouldn’t want to let her walk away and that’s the whole point of that is that’s why they took 75 hours to magistrate her. They held her incognito so that they could do what they wanted to do with her,” said Ariel Payan, Work’s defense attorney. “Law enforcement has to comply with certain rules and restrictions and they have to follow the statutes, and the argument here is that they did not. They didn’t comply with the law and that renders her statements inadmissible.”
The defense wants those statements thrown out before the trial starts.
At one point Tuesday, Judge Wahlberg asked whether the law enforcement agency in question — the Cedar Park Police Department — was the same agency involved in the controversial Greg Kelley case. Prosecutors responded that these were very “distinct and different” cases.
Last month, a judge recommended Kelley’s conviction be thrown out, among other reasons, saying police botched the investigation.
“When you have an individual who investigates offenses in a certain way, that should be relevant to how they conduct themselves in your particular case,” said Payan.
The boy’s family says the court should focus on getting justice for the victim in this case.
“I feel like that the defense has [the] Cedar Park Police Department on trial, not Meagan Work. They are more focused on what Cedar Park did, or did not do, in favor of Meagan,” added Battles. “It’s very hard to sit through and listen to that. We know what Meagan did. Meagan knows what she did, and it’s hard to sit there and listen.”
Judge Wahlberg is expected to rule on Tuesday’s hearing by March 21. Depending on which, if any, of Work’s statements he allows in as evidence, the defense says search warrants that were obtained using said statements may mean that other physical evidence may also need to be thrown out.
Work’s trial is scheduled to start in May. It could last more than a week and will likely require two jury pools because of the public interest.
In February 2016, Work’s boyfriend, 32-year-old Michael Turner, pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and reckless injury to a child by omission charges in this case. He is serving a 20-year sentence after helping lead investigators to Colton’s remains.
KXAN reached out to the Cedar Park Police Department on Tuesday. They had no comment on the matter because the court case is still pending, but said the court of appeals already ruled the department was within protocol in their handling of this case.