Jerry Wayne Bagley Jr., 23, facing several counts, including malice murder

Trial begins in 2017 infant homicide case

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Jurors were selected Monday afternoon for the trial of a Cartersville man facing seven charges, including one count of malice murder and two counts of felony murder, in connection with the death of a two-and-a-half-month-old child.

Prosecution and the defense made their opening statements shortly before 3 p.m. Monday as the trial of 23-year-old Jerry Wayne Bagley Jr. got underway. Bagley is accused of causing the death of his infant daughter, Onnah Noel Bagley, in April 2017.

According to a bill of indictment, Bagley is accused of killing his daughter “by accelerating and decelerating said child in a manner similar to shaking said child.” In addition to the three previously mentioned murder charges, he is also facing one count of cruelty to children in the first degree, one count of cruelty to children in the second degree, one count of aggravated battery-family violence and one count of second degree murder “by failing to provide immediate medical care” for the injured child while she was in his care.

Cherokee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Austin Waldo gave opening statements for the prosecution. He said the State intended on calling at least a dozen witnesses to the stand throughout the trial.

Emergency responders were dispatched to Bagley’s residence off Cedar Creek Road on the morning of April 24, 2017, to investigate a 911 call concerning an infant who had fallen into cardiac arrest.

The 11-week-old child was declared dead at a hospital in Atlanta on April 28. 

“You must realize that she cannot testify,” Waldo told jurors. “She cannot tell you what happened to her, but her little body is going to tell you what happened to her that day … ultimately, the medical testimony, I expect to show that Onnah Noel Bagley died from abusive head trauma.”

Bagley was arrested and charged with his daughter’s murder on Feb. 11, 2018.

Public defender Jennifer Block gave opening statements on Bagley’s behalf.

“Jerry Bagley was asked over and over and over again what happened, and he told the same thing to doctors treating Onnah, the family, the [Division of Family and Children Services] workers and to investigators,” she said. “His statement has never changed … all those that know him best will say that he was a good father and he had really stepped up to be a dad.”

Bagley told the responders that he put the child to sleep in a swing around midnight the previous evening. When he woke up the next morning, he found her unresponsive.

The 911 call from April 24 was played in court Monday afternoon. The defendant could be heard sobbing as an operator walked him through the CPR process. During the call, Bagley told the operator that his daughter was “barely breathing” and that she had “no medical history.”

The first witness to take the stand was former Bartow County EMS worker Deborah Whatley, who was the first responder on the scene. 

While the child’s body was still warm at that time, she also said “she was limp and cyanotic,” with her skin already turning blue. The infant, Whatley recounted, had a faint pulse but was not able to breathe. 

By the time the ambulance arrived at Cartersville Medical Center, Whatley said the child, even after receiving an injection of atropine, had a heart rate in the 30 beats-per-minute range and had shown no signs of stimuli.

She told Block that she did not see any signs of “head abnormalities” on the infant at that time. 

Testimony in Bartow Superior Court continued Tuesday. At one point, the defendant's father-in-law David Edwards took the stand. He said Bagley often turned to him for advice, describing him as a devoted father to his two children.

"He would do a lot for those babies," he said. 

Most of Tuesday's testimony revolved around medical evidence. Dr. William Boydston, a pediatric neurosurgeon who examined the infant, said she was comatose and displayed no evidence of brain function.

Furthermore, he said MRIs of the child's brain showed subdural hemorrhaging and blood in her ventricular system. The injuries, he said, were consistent with abusive head trauma, which was previously referred to as shaken baby syndrome.

"This is not a normal brain," he said. "This is a brain that has been diffusely injured."

The injuries, he continued, were unlikely to have been a result of an aneurysm or sepsis. Rather, he said a substantial amount of force would have been required to produce injuries so severe.

Dr. Verena Brown, a child abuse pediatrician for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, also gave testimony Tuesday afternoon. She told jurors she did not believe the child died from natural causes.

"When you look at where her blood was, it was all in the central nervous system," she said. "You didn't have bleeding anywhere else ... she had CPR, she had multiple blood draws and people using tourniquets to get blood out. She didn't have any bruising then, she didn't have any bruising from medicalization, so if she had a severe bleeding disorder from birth, why did she not get bruised elsewhere?"

The trial, which is being overseen by Cherokee Judicial Circuit Judge Suzanne H. Smith, is set to resume at 9 a.m. this morning at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center in Cartersville.