TWIN FALLS — A man charged with murdering his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son made the uncommon choice of taking the witness stand in his own trial this week, opening himself up to questions by his own attorney and a deputy prosecutor.
Speaking slowly and in a low voice, Brian James Wagner, 34, calmly answered every question posed to him, including the most important one.
“Did you do anything to Jeff (Singleton) to cause him any injury on October 31, 2014?” Wagner’s defense attorney, Doug Nelson, asked him.
“Absolutely not,” Wagner responded.
The jury agreed with Wagner, returning a not-guilty verdict Wednesday on a first-degree murder charge about 15 months after a grand jury indicted him for the death of Jeffrey Charles Singleton, the son of his former girlfriend whom Wagner said he considered like his own son.
“He wanted the jury to hear it from his own mouth that he did nothing to injure the child,” Nelson told the Times-News of his client’s decision to testify.
Prosecutors accused Wagner of inflicting a deadly blow to the back of Singleton’s head on Halloween 2014. They sought an indictment in October 2015, and Wagner’s trial began Jan. 18. After about three and a half days of testimony, the jury needed just three hours to acquit Wagner, an Air Force veteran who grew up in Buhl.
Singleton died Nov. 2, 2014, days after suffering a traumatic injury to his head that caused a skull fracture and brain swelling and ultimately led to his death.
Benicia Rush, Singleton’s mother, also took the stand during trial, as a witness for the prosecution. She testified in a strong, clear voice, except when talking about Singleton. Through tears, Rush told the jury the boy was 2 years, 3 months and 2 days old when she decided to take him off life support after it became clear he wouldn’t get better.
“I loved him unconditionally,” Rush said. Later, through more tears, she recounted how she held the toddler in her arms as he died.
Rush’s testimony was the emotional peak of the state’s case, which began with Twin Falls County Deputy Prosecutor Julie Sturgill telling the jury during her opening statement that Singleton’s injury could not have been caused by a fall from a couch, like Wagner told police.
“The evidence will prove that a fall from an 18-inch couch did not kill Jeffrey Singleton, but that Brian Wagner killed Jeff,” Sturgill told the jury.
Nelson’s opening statement presented an alternative theory.
“All the evidence will show one of two things happened,” Nelson said. “Either Brian Wagner intentionally bashed in the head of a child that he considered to be his own. Or, Brian Wagner witnessed the worst thing that anyone could witness — the accident of a child considered to be your own that results in that child’s eventual death.”
Nelson called just three defense witnesses, including his client. The first two were a forensic pathologist and a biomedical engineer specializing in accident recreations and pediatric head injuries. Both testified that the fall that Wagner described to police — Singleton was standing on the couch and fell directly on his head — could have caused the injury that killed him.
Then Wagner took the stand, explaining that he was babysitting Singleton while Rush was at work. He said Singleton was excited all night as trick-or-treaters came to the door, and while Wagner was trying to do homework on his computer, Singleton fell.
Nelson said his client was relieved to avoid prison, but overwhelmingly sad about the death of Singleton.
“He treated him as his own son,” Nelson said. “He was shocked that anybody thought it was anything but a tragic accident … It was the worst of the worst for him — first, a child he was responsible for dies in front of him, and then he’s prosecuted for something he didn’t do.”
TWIN FALLS — Volunteers are an important component of any nonprofit’s mission.
Recruiting them is a challenge, and sometimes retaining them is another battle.
Now people looking to volunteer can be matched with nonprofits within 75 miles of them with the help of the new website justserve.org.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched justserve.org in the Magic Valley two weeks ago. Ray Parrish, area spokesman, said it’s a free service provided by the LDS church to help people serve their community. The site launched three years ago in California and a year ago in Boise.
About 15 local nonprofits are already signed up, including the 5th Judicial District Court Appointed Special Advocates Program — also known as CASA for Children — and the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Program.
People can tailor what kind of service they are interested in, such as working with youth or animals. They can also share any skills they have or the distance they would prefer to travel.
“We believe in service so much,” Parrish said. “It benefits the community and volunteers through their service. We just encourage people of all faiths to get out and volunteer. Often there are opportunities that get missed because no one knows about it.”
Parrish said people can also decide whether they want to get daily or weekly notifications when they are match with a nonprofit.
Tahna Barton, CASA executive director, said she is hopeful the website will bring in more volunteers to help the nonprofit that represents abused and neglected children in court cases. CASA advocates stay with each child’s case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.
CASA currently has 49 active volunteers. It is the lowest number of volunteers Barton has seen in a long time.
“I think its going to help us,” Barton said. “I know that people who contact us through the site are compassionate and committed, and that’s half the battle.”
Barton wants to improve volunteer retention rate because it costs CASA money when volunteers leave.
“We spend a lot of money training and recruiting volunteers,” Barton said. “When they don’t stay, that’s a financial loss. We’ve already invested a lot into that volunteer by providing the training. When they go we are starting back at square one again. My main focus is to recruit train and retain volunteers. If it’s not the right fit in the beginning, it wont last. That’s what I’m hoping justserve will provide.”
Susan Stallings, a member of Community Quilts, is always searching for more volunteers to make quilts and pillowcases the groups donates to nonprofits like CASA.
When she learned about justserve.org, she decided to sign up. It wasn’t long before she was connected with a volunteer in Dietrich.
“She wanted to do some long arm quilting for us,” Stallings said. “I was able to put together a package for her. She has that material now, and I haven’t got it back yet, I’m excited to see what she has accomplished.”
While that woman has been the only response so far, Stallings is optimistic she will connect with other volunteers. She said the nonprofit sign up was simple.
“I just explained what I was interested in having on that website and they approved it,” she said. “And I received an email that said it had been approved. I’m older and so it’s something new I’m learning to use. We are always looking for more people.”
Parrish said the only nonprofit projects that are not accepted are ones that are fundraisers or political. Nonprofit directors must first sign up as a volunteer on the site and then they can create projects looking for volunteers. Often Mormon missionaries use the site to seek out volunteer opportunities, but Parrish said they do not proselytize during their community service.
“It’s a free service from the LDS church to help people to serve,” Parrish said.
Kyiah MaeLynn-Louise Griffith, daughter of Jasmine Fowler and Colby Griffith of Shoshone, was born Jan. 20, 2017.
Sienna Mae Lanier, daughter of Raylee JoLynn Woody and Braeden Cutter Lanier of Twin Falls, was born Jan. 19, 2017.
Franko Martinez, son of Maria E. Cisneros and Jose Ricardo Martinez Orozco of Twin Falls, was born Jan. 20, 2017.
Samuel Kelly Wilson, son of Seanna Roselee Wilson and Matthew Carriger Wilson of Kimberly, was born Jan. 22, 2017.
Iker Cortez, son of Maricela Cortez and Ruben Nieves Cortez of Twin Falls, was born Jan. 23, 2017.
Grace Rachelle Lassen, daughter of Renae Suxo-Lassen and Matthew Charles Lassen of Filer, was born Jan. 23, 2017.
Samaya Ruby Sapien, daughter of Candice Pearl Sapien and Patrick Joseph Aguirre of Twin Falls, was born Jan. 24, 2017.
Twin Falls County
William James Sawyer, 47, Twin Falls; theft by redeiving, possessing or disposing of stolen property, $245.50 costs, $500 public defender, 14 years penitentiary, eight years determinate, six indeterminate, 117 days credited, 365 days retained jurisdiction.
Gerami Shaun Secord, 38, Twin Falls; theft by receiving, possessing or disposing of stolen property, $245.50 costs, $100 DNA, 14 years penitentiary, five determinate, nine years indeterminate, 18 days credited, sentence to run concurrent to other charges. Second charge theft by receiving, possessing or disposing of stolen property, $245.50 costs, 14 years penitentiary, five determinate, nine years indeterminate, 18 days credited. Three charges theft by receiving, possessing or disposing of stolen property dismissed.
Trevor Danny Hildreth, 26, Twin Falls; possession of a controlled substance, $285.50 costs, $100 DNA, $500 public defender, $738.50 restitution, five years penitentiary, two determinate, three indeterminate, credit for time served, sentence suspended, three years supervised probation.
Anna Marie Kolster Rill, 23, Twin Falls; grand theft, $245.50 costs, $100 DNA, four years penitentiary, two determinate, two indeterminate, credit for time served, sentence suspended.
Chase Steven Whetter, 28, Twin Falls; $245.50 costs, $1,000 fine, five years penitentiary, two determinate, three indeterminate, seven days credited, 365 days retained jurisdiction, sentence to run concurrent to 2015 case. Theft by receiving, possession or disposing of stolen property charge dismissed.
Karen Michele Coats, 35, Twin Falls; possession of a controlled substance, $285.50 costs, $100 DNA, $688.35 restitution, seven years penitentiary, three determinate, four indeterminate, 45 days credited, sentence suspended, four years supervised probation.
DRIVING UNDER THE
Anthony Christopher Harris, 21, Buhl; DUI second offense, $1,000 fine, $1,000 suspended, $202.50 costs, $75 public defender, 180 days jail, 175 suspended, one day credited, 365 days restricted drivers license, 24 months supervised probation, attend victim impact panel and court alcohol school, one year interlock device.
Brian Adam Neitzke, 38, Twin Falls; DUI excessive, $1,000 fine, $1,000 suspended, $202.50 costs, 180 days jail, 175 suspended, 365 days restricted drivers license, 24 months supervised probation, attend victim impact panel and court alcohol school.
Gregory Allen Hatke, 52, Twin Falls; DUI, $1,000 fine, $600 suspended, $202.50 costs, $50 public defender,180 days jail, 176 suspended, one day credited, 180 days restricted drivers license, 24 months supervised probation, 24 hours work detail, attend victim impact panel and court alcohol school.
Charles Edward Noakes Jr., 26, Buhl; DUI, $1,000 fine, $600 suspended, $202.50 costs, $50 public defender, 180 days jail, 175 suspended, one day credited, 32 hours work detail, 180 days restricted drivers license, 24 months supervised probation, attend victim impact panel.
Cory Douglas Collins, 23, Twin Falls; DUI, $1,000 fine, $600 suspended, $202.50 costs, $50 public defender, 180 days jail, 177 suspended, two days credited, eight hours work detail, 180 days restricted drivers license, 12 months supervised probation, attend victim impact panel and court alcohol school.
Michelle Lynn Ferreira, 37, Burley, DUI, $1,000 fine, $600 suspended, $202.50 costs, 180 days jail, 177 suspended, one day credited, guilty withheld sentence, 16 hours work detail, 180 days restricted drivers license, 12 months supervised probation, attend victim impact panel and court alcohol school.
Darilyn Gertrude Seeber, 53, Twin Falls; DUI excessive, $1,000 fine, $800 suspended, $202.50 costs, 365 days jail, 355 suspended, one day credited, 365 days drivers license suspension, interlock device to follow suspension, 24 months supervised probation.
Heather Bybee v. Robert Bybee II
Dorina Rodriguez v. Jorge Rodriguez
James Clayson v. Jessica Clayson
Shari Perkins v. Stephen Perkins
Yelmi Magana-Mejia v. Edgar Torres-Gonzalez
Jennifer Bryant v. Robert Bryant
Ashley Maxwell v. Wasiu Adepoju
Everett Hicks v. Krystin Nelson
John Root v. Judy Root
Carol Donnally v. Micheal Donnally
Bobby Besancon v. Jeffrey Besancon
Big Wood 169%
Little Wood 164%
Big Lost 163%
Little Lost 131%
Henrys Fork/Teton 120%
Upper Snake Basin 158%
Goose Creek 122%
Salmon Falls 113%
Today’s median peak compares water content with what is normally seen on this day.
As of Feb. 15.