Chic-Colbert found guilty on five counts
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A jury found a Charleston man guilty of domestic battery and child neglect Tuesday in the highway death of 11-year-old Jahlil Clements.
After more than an hour of deliberation, the jury convicted Ethan Samuel Chic-Colbert on one count of domestic battery, one count of child neglect resulting in death, and three counts of gross child neglect creating a serious risk of bodily harm or death.
Prosecutors said, on March 4, Chic-Colbert started beating the mother of his child, Lynitrah Woodson, as she drove down Interstate 77 in Charleston. Clements, two of his friends, and Woodson and Chic-Colbert's young son were in the backseat of the car.
Woodson pulled the car over near the Leon Sullivan Way exit, prosecutors said, and Chic-Colbert dragged Woodson out of the car and continued to attack her in the roadway. Clements ran across lanes of traffic to get help and was hit by a car. Injuries to his brain and head eventually killed him.
Chic-Colbert faces up to 31 years in prison. His sentencing is Aug. 15.
Chic-Colbert was initially charged with kidnapping and murder, but Kanawha Chief Circuit Judge Duke Bloom dismissed those charges before jury deliberation because he said the connection to the murder charges were too remote.
During the trial Tuesday, both prosecution and defense said the case came down to a matter of credibility and asked the jury whom they believed was telling the truth.
Woodson said tension between the couple began at Southridge Grand Prix Family Fun Center off Corridor G, after Chic-Colbert saw her talking with a husband and wife. Chic-Colbert asked why she was talking to the man, and he walked away with "an attitude," Woodson said.
Things escalated, she said, after they started driving away from the Grand Prix and Chic-Colbert said he was going home with her. Woodson repeatedly told Chic-Colbert he wasn't. He got angry then, she said, which she could tell by the way his leg started shaking.
"He looked down and he said, 'God, forgive me,'" Woodson said.
As they continued to drive through Corridor G and onto the interstate, Woodson asked Chic-Colbert where he was staying that night. When he wouldn't give her an answer, she started to call her mother.
"As I did that is when he struck me and hit me," Woodson said.
The fight intensified, and Woodson said she blacked out from the blows. When she came to, Chic-Clements dragged her from the car onto the highway, where he continued to beat her, she said.
"I was yelling, 'I'm just playin' I'm just playin, I didn't call my mom'," she said.
"He said, that, 'Why would you lie? I'm going to kill you, b,'" Woodson said, giving only the first letter of the derogatory term she said Chic-Colbert called her.
Woodson also said she saw Clements out in the highway and tried to go to him but wasn't able to. She then watched Chic-Colbert running away from the scene, shedding his clothing and leaving the boys alone on the highway.
After Woodson left the witness stand, Chic-Colbert opted to testify and present his version of what happened.
He also said tensions rose at the Grand Prix but that it was because Woodson noticed him talking to two women there.
Once Chic-Colbert and Woodson were in the car, he tried to diffuse the situation by pretending to fall asleep, but Woodson kept flicking and hitting him in the face, he said.
Chic-Colbert said he asked Woodson to drop him off at his aunt's house, but they were close to the Leon Sullivan Way exit by that point, and that was far away from where he needed to go. Woodson "pestered" him, Chic-Colbert said, and he kept moving her hand away from his face.
"She hit me in the head with her phone and told me to get the 'f' out of her car," Chic-Colbert said.
He attempted to flee the vehicle, but Woodson grabbed onto him. Once they were both out of the car, he said, he defended himself.
"I pick her up and I slam her down to the ground," Chic-Colbert said, speaking directly to the jury.
He said he was so afraid of Woodson that he hopped over the guardrail on the highway, ran down the hill and jumped a fence, as Woodson yelled, "You're going to jail."
After listening to his story, prosecution asked Chic-Colbert how he explained the discrepancies between his testimony and the stories of all the other witnesses who had spoken during the past two days. Chic-Colbert said they all lied, and he was the only one telling the truth.
"The only thing I did to Lynitrah," he said, "was remove her off of me by slamming her to the ground."
Prosecutors also called 12-year-old Tyrel Coffman, who was in the car during the altercation, to the witness stand Tuesday. Coffman, dressed in gym shorts and a T-shirt, confirmed the details of that night, including the group's outing to the Grand Prix and a trip through the McDonald's drive-thru.
Coffman said Chic-Colbert started the altercation and detailed how he saw Chic-Colbert pull Woodson out of the car by her hair and continue to pummel her after the car stopped on the interstate. The boys tried to help Woodson by hitting Chic-Colbert and Clements ran out of the car, Coffman said.
Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Tera Salango asked Coffman what happened next.
"Jahlil got hit," Coffman said, then paused, his face turning red. He tucked his head to his chin and began to cry. After composing himself, he looked up at the prosecutor, choking back sobs. "Then Jahlil got hit."
Upon hearing Tuesday's verdict, Woodson brought her head to her knees, sobbing, as family and friends consoled her. Chic-Colbert stared straight ahead with no visible emotion on his face -- a look he had maintained during the day's trial.
Clements' grandmother, Thomasina Clements, said outside the courtroom that the verdict restored her faith in the justice system.
"Thank God for the jury," Clements said.
Woodson's mother, Treva Woodson, said people needed to continue to pray for the family.
"Just pray for justice," she said, "and always praying for strength."
Thomasina Clements said though the case would never really be over for her, the verdict made her feel as though other people cared about Jahlil, too.
"He mattered very much to me," she said. "He was the love of my life."
Staff writer Zac Taylor contributed. Reach Alison Matas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.