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MSU student attends pretrial conference Feb. 11

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Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 12:00 am

A Missouri State student facing criminal charges had a pretrial hearing Feb. 11.

Austin M. Pelley, 22, was charged in September 2012 for the death of his girlfriend’s two-year-old son, Benjamin Garrison, who was found unconscious after being left in Pelley’s care on June 15.

According to a probable cause statement taken by the Springfield Police Department, Chelsea Garrison — who said she had been dating Pelley for two to three months — left her son at Pelley’s apartment, located at 821 South Ave., to take a college exam.

While she was away, neighbors later said they heard thumping sounds coming from Pelley’s apartment. One man next door described the sounds as similar to someone striking a slab of beef with their fist and a sack of potatoes being thrown onto the ground, the police statement said.

When Garrison returned, Pelley reportedly told her Benjamin had been playing in the water and fell. A neighbor told police he observed that neither the child, nor Pelley, were wet. Garrison drove her son to Mercy Hospital while Pelley stayed at the apartment, according to the statement.

Medical staff later informed police that Benjamin had undergone surgery, during which a portion of his skull was removed to relieve pressure to his brain. He had severe bruising on his face and several older bruises on his body.

Benjamin died June 17, 2012, from head injuries he sustained while in Pelley’s care. The next day, an autopsy and examination of the child’s brain showed retinal hemorrhaging and abusive head trauma. The manner of death was determined to be homicide, according to the police report.

Earle Doman, vice president of student affairs, said that Pelley is enrolled full time at MSU. According to Doman, there is no standard disciplinary procedure for students in this type of situation.

“If someone gets into trouble … the case is reviewed. If disciplinary action is taken, it then becomes educational record,” Doman said.

Whether MSU has taken such action is considered confidential, according to Doman.

During the hearing, Greene County Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Wan made a motion to revoke Pelley’s bond. Conditions of his bond are that he has no contact with Garrison or any children and that he wears a GPS monitoring ankle bracelet. According to Wan, Pelley had involved himself with another woman, who also has a child, after posting bond in September.

John Patrick O’Connor, Pelley’s defense attorney, however, said that Pelley is no longer involved with her.

Wan said she spoke with the woman and received statements, as well as photographs, of the child in Pelley’s apartment.

O’Connor, insisted that Pelley had not been in violation of his bond.

“He’s never, ever, been alone with this child,” O’Connor said at the hearing.

According to Wan, a police report was filed after the woman learned the nature of Pelley’s charges. Lt. Ben King of the Springfield Police Department could not confirm any reports other than the initial report from Garrison.

Judge Thomas E. Mountjoy didn’t revoke Pelley’s bond, but scheduled a later hearing on March 15 at 9:30 a.m. Pretrial motions are set for Sept. 5 at 1:30 p.m. and a jury trial will begin Sept. 9 at 8:30 a.m.

Wan estimated the trial could last a week or longer. She said she has more than 30 witnesses. O’Connor said both charges carry sentences of 10-30 years, or life in prison.

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