AUSTIN (KXAN) — Judge David Wahlberg plans to take a night and share his decision Friday about Meagan Work’s sentence after he listened to closing statements from both sides Thursday.
Work’s defense team rested their case after calling five of their own witnesses. The attorneys then worked to influence the judge’s decision through their closing remarks.
Prosecutor Jeremy Sylestine spoke first to the judge, saying, “You don’t bury your own son…unless you’ve done something terribly wrong.”
Sylestine stressed the importance of the emotional testimony given Tuesday and Wednesday by Robert Coe, who said he saw Work slam her son’s head against a truck door on July 7, 2014. Sylestine said Coe backed up what their medical experts said this week. A forensic pathologist and a pediatrician that specializes in child abuse investigations said Colton Turner died from blunt force trauma to his head.
Darla Davis, Work’s defense attorney, cast doubt on Coe’s testimony. She criticized how Austin police re-enacted the alleged abuse in a video shown in court this week. She also questioned why Coe did not report what happened at the time until months later.
Davis also tried to downplay Work’s role in the death of her son, saying her boyfriend was more abusive and controlling. “Michael and Meagan are equally at fault with what happened to this child,” Davis said “Equally.”
Davis talked about Work’s incredibly rough upbringing, adding that Work’s “true crime” is that “she doesn’t present like we want to see because she can’t.”
Prosecutor Victoria Winkler countered that claim afterward, saying the state’s witnesses showed Work lied and manipulated people.
“We heard sad stories that are sad,” Winkler said. “Has she done anything to better her situation or who she is? There is no evidence of that.”
The prosecutor showed a smiling picture of Colton covered in cake during her remarks. She said a harsh punishment will “provide this community justice by serving her with a lengthy prison sentence.”
Defense calls its witnesses
During the first three days of sentencing, prosecutors brought up 21 witnesses to testify. Work’s defense attorneys got their first chance to call their own witnesses Thursday morning. The beginning of the testimony highlighted Work’s rough upbringing at home and at school.
Emotional testimony from teacher
The first witness to testify was Sandra Trujillo, who worked at Leander Middle School when Work was in the sixth grade there. Trujillo said staff members brought Work into a program for at-risk students to provide them with additional support.
She apologized at one point when she became choked up. “I’m sorry it’s really hard to see Meagan,” Trujillo said.
She testified that she worked as Work’s mentor in this at-risk program. She teared up again when she said she would often leave clothes and money anonymously in Work’s locker.
“I always put something in her locker on her birthday because I knew that was all she was going to get,” Trujillo said.
The teacher also said that she once found Work hiding in some bushes two or three hours after school dismissed. She brought Work into the school, where she told her that her parents must have forgotten to pick her up. Trujillo said she ended up driving Work to an aunt’s house in Round Rock, but not before they stopped at a Sonic to get some food. Trujillo remembers asking why Work only took two bites from a hamburger.
“When a child has to wrap up part of her food to help someone else at home, it’s not right,” Trujillo said.
She once again fought back tears when she told prosecutors that she had lost track of Work when she left the middle school.
“I didn’t keep supporting her through high school,” Trujillo said, “and I regret that.”
Prosecutors also asked Trujillo if any of the students in this program had “success stories,” pointing out that they made different decisions in their lives.
Defense presents CPS records
The defense then introduced records from Child Protective Services related to Work and her family. A witness hired by the defense to create a summary of more than 1,700 pages of CPS records described some of the disturbing contents about the time when Work was a child.
One safety assessment report done by CPS described the children in the Work household as being at risk to drugs, violent behavior, hazardous home conditions and being uncared for.
The defense also said the records showed CPS investigated Work several times once she had Colton Turner. The summary prepared by the witness stated all the allegations made against Work, which included physical abuse and neglectful supervision, were ruled out. However, a prosecutor went back through the actual records and pointed out the summary contained many inconsistencies about the CPS determination from some of these allegations.
Defense calls its own forensic pathologist
The defense also called its own forensic pathologist, Dr. Amy Gruszecki. She refuted testimony that the state’s witness, Dr. Satish Chundru, gave Wednesday. Dr. Chundru conducted Colton’s autopsy in 2014 and testified that the manner and cause of death were blunt force injuries and homicide.
Dr. Gruszecki, however, said she would have ruled the cause of death as “undetermined.” She said there was no evidence in the autopsy of significant blunt force trauma to the head.
“To say that it is blunt force trauma is taking it a step too far in my opinion,” Dr. Gruszecki said.
Prosecutors, however, pointed out that other forensic pathologists signed off on their witness’ autopsy report.
Judge Wahlberg told the court that he’d like to think overnight about his decision regarding Work’s sentence. He said he’ll make his decision public Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Work pleaded guilty to charges of injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence. She could be sentenced to anywhere from five years to life in prison.
Work’s boyfriend, Michael Turner, has already been sentenced to 20 years in prison for charges related to this same case.
KXAN reporter Will DuPree is in the courtroom. Follow his Twitter feed during the trial below: