‘Justice for TJ’ trial begins

Tuesday marked day one of a jury trial seeking justice for a 6-year-old boy whose remains were found Nov. 13, 2016 in a black plastic bag outside a residence located at 1522 Mabert Rd., in Portsmouth.

The trial, being heard by Scioto County Common Pleas Judge William Marshall, told the graphic story of Tyler Joseph “T.J.” Caudill, son of Michael Caudill, 28, of South Shore, Kentucky and Margarita White.

White and boyfriend Doug Hunt, 34, homeless of Portsmouth, were charged in the crime. White has since entered a plea of guilty, informing the prosecution that she and Hunt beat her son to death in a hotel in Portsmouth.

Prosecutors Pat Apel and Julie Hutchinson called the late victim’s father Michael Caudill as the State’s first witness. He explained that he first met White when he was approximately 21, when the two started dating. The witness explained that the relationship was on and off; however, there were never any custody issues, and he was able to see his son throughout the week and on weekends. Michael Caudill described his son as a “happy, healthy baby boy.”

Throughout the testimony, Michael Caudill explained that his visits started to be more infrequent as White began a relationship with Hunt. Then, on Aug. 8, 2015, on the child’s fifth birthday, Michael Caudill and his family had a birthday celebration at Pizza Hut on Scioto Trail in Portsmouth. This was the last time Michael Caudill would see his son alive.

In a fight for custody, Michael Caudill and his mother Loraine Caudill, also of South Shore, who was called to the stand as State witness No. 2, both stated that they called attorneys, child protective services and juvenile courts in Ohio and Kentucky, but were told that they needed a physical address in order to serve White with subpoenas.

Loraine Caudill, grandmother to the deceased, added that after contact with White stopped, she started a search for her grandson that had her trailing Hunt and White nearly seven days a week. The search continued until remains were found more than a year after the Caudill family last saw the child.

Lead investigator on the case, Lt. Mike Hamilton, with the Portsmouth Police Department (PPD) Detective Division, explained that PPD were first notified that Tyler Caudill was missing. In effort to find the child, police first needed to find his mother and her boyfriend.

“They were very hard to locate,” Hamilton commented.

Through coordinated efforts between the PPD Scioto County Sheriff’s Office and Kentucky law enforcement, Hamilton explained that they were able to apprehend White at Gatti’s in Portsmouth, where they had followed her mom, who had been meeting White to help her with money, food and clothing.

Throughout evidence submitted, it was apparent that White and Hunt had moved several times in the final months of Tyler Caudill’s life and after.

In his testimony, Hamilton explained that White agreed to take officers to the location of her son’s body. Hamilton stated that as he arrived at 1522 Mabert, it “looked vacant and abandoned.” He later found out that no one lived at the property.

The investigator added that as he neared the property he could smell what he described as “the most putrid smell of human decomposure I’ve ever smelled.” Hamilton testified that he has worked in law enforcement for 19 years.

During Hamilton’s testimony, he also stated that White informed officers that her son’s body would be under a table top. The State provided photos of the scene as it was when Hamilton arrived. Included in the photos were pictures of the child’s – bones and decomposing flesh – protruding from a black, plastic bag underneath a wooden table top propped against the south side of the house. The bag, which had not yet been touched by law enforcement, was partially opened. According to Hamilton, the investigation later revealed that the body had been subject to “animal activity,” which was likely the cause of the opening in the bag.

Hamilton added that in communication with White, officers also found out that the body of the young boy had been moved from room 36 at the Royal Inn, where he was murdered, to the 1524 Mabert (neighboring property to 1522) in a blue and white cooler. Hamilton stated that he quickly located the cooler, which was not presented as evidence to the court because according to Hamilton, the smell would clear the courthouse.

“The cooler has the same putrid smell that I smelled walking up to 1522,” Hamilton stated for the court.

The cooler is now in a freezer at the Portsmouth Police Department.

According to Hamilton, Hunt was later apprehended after being hospitalized for an assault.

The remainder of Tuesday’s proceedings included the viewing of a recorded interview between Hunt, Hamilton and Officer Steve Timberlake.

In the recorded interview, Hunt, father of 10, describes Tyler Caudill as being like one of his children, stating, “He was a good child. He was a great child. He just needed a little correction.”

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

By Nikki Blankenship

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Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.