MAYVILLE – A pin drop could be heard during most of Day 1 of the Hodnett murder trial Thursday in Chautauqua County Court.
Tyler A. “Cash” Perez, 35, of Jamestown, is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in connection with the April 2014 death of 16-month-old Nayla Hodnett, a death which Chautauqua County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Flaherty said resulted from being “beaten badly.”
Flaherty’s third witness of the day was Dr. Amanda Hassinger, who worked as an attending physician at Buffalo Children’s Hospital the evening of April 16, 2014 and into the 17th. Hassinger testified about the specific injuries that she noticed that Hodnett sustained.
Hassinger explained that she worked quickly to try to raise Hodnett’s blood pressure and oxygen level, which she stated were both very low. In addition, Hassinger told the court that the infant sustained “significant” trauma to her abdomen and her pancreas.
“I haven’t seen a blunt force trauma that severe before,” Hassinger said. Because of the injuries, Hassinger said she was “moribund,” which she said meant she was on her way to death.
Nayla Hodnett was pronounced dead the morning of April 17, 2014.
Flaherty’s fourth witness of the day, Angel Hodnett (Nayla’s mother), testified that her infant seemed “her regular self” just before she took a 10-15 minute walk to Fresh Cut Meats and More, which was located at the corner of Newland and Forest Avenues in the City of Jamestown, on April 16. Hodnett stated that she purchased food items for lunch that day from the store.
The prosecutor said that Perez allegedly committed the crime while Angel Hodnett went to the store.
Hodnett testified that she later discovered that Nayla threw up in her bed and assumed that she had the flu because one of her brothers had the flu around the time of her death. Angel Hodnett further explained that she, along with other family members, brought Nayla to WCA Hospital before she was taken to Buffalo Children’s Hospital.
Barone’s cross-examination of Hodnett lasted for most of the afternoon. The public defender grilled her about statements that she reportedly made to investigators on four separate occasions during the course of the nearly five-year investigation.
Barone, on numerous occasions, referenced a quote that he said was made by a member of the District Attorney’s Office during an interview they conducted with Hodnett in August 2018. Barone said District Attorney Patrick Swanson, former ADA Christopher Belling and investigator Dan Johnson were present.
“If you don’t get on the witness train, we’ve got issues with you,” was the alleged quote that he cited. Hodnett, however, said she didn’t recall the quote.
Perez’s lawyer also stated in his opening remarks that Perez couldn’t hurt Nayla Hodnett because he considered her his daughter.
“Tyler Perez loved Nayla. More importantly, Nayla Hodnett loved Tyler Perez. Loved Tyler Perez, her father,” Barone said. Barone said that Angel Hodnett told Jamestown Police, during an interview, that Perez treated Nayla “like gold.”
Hodnett stated that she remembered telling Jamestown Police during one of the first interviews that she considered having Perez adopt Nayla. Nayla’s biological father never had visitation rights, according to Angel Hodnett.
Both attorneys, during their opening statements, acknowledged that the jury will need to critically analyze the evidence and testimony that is presented. Flaherty admitted that his case will be rather short.
“This will be a short trial,” Flaherty said. “There are no eyewitnesses.”
“They don’t have any eyewitness,” Barone reiterated in his opening remarks. “They’ve got nothing. They know that.”
“Tyler Perez, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Jamestown Police Department don’t know what happened (to Nayla Hodnett)…An innocent man is fighting for his freedom.”
Barone added that, “What happened to Nayla should never happen to any child….It was an absolute tragedy.”
Perez rejected a plea deal earlier Thursday, which called for a guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter. A determinate sentence of 15 years in prison was part of the deal, according to the court.
Judge M. William Boller, of Buffalo, is presiding over the case. Boller gave the jury instructions regarding their conduct during the trial, and additionally warned that those who’ve been called to testify are not allowed to observe the proceedings.
Court resumes at 9 a.m. Friday morning in Chautauqua County Court. WNYNewsNow will continue to be in court for the proceedings.