TJ Caudill trial resumes

The second day in the trail against defendant Doug Hunt brought about the story of three children living through homelessness and drug abuse.

Hunt is charged with the murder of 6-year-old autistic child TJ Caudill, whose body was found in November 2016 on Mabert Road in Portsmouth. Caudill’s mother Margarita White has already entered a plea of guilty. Hunt was the mother’s boyfriend at the time.

The second day of the trial resumed with testimony from Police Police Department (PPD) Detective Division Lt. Mike Hamilton. Hamilton testified that he originally went in search of White on a warrant for truancy because Caudill had not been enrolled in school. He further testified that he was also trying to locate White because he was aware that Caudill had been reported as missing.

The following testimony came from Aaron Queen, of Oak Hill, who stated that he worked for the Royal Inn in Portsmouth, where White and Hunt had been staying with their two children and Caudill, who was White’s child from another relationship. Queen explained that would watch the office when the owner was out of town as a fill-in employee.

Queen testified that he had seen White several times over the period of approximately one month from from Aug. 10, 2016 to Sept. 22, 2016. Additionally, Queen stated that he had only seen her with one child, a toddler in diapers. Queen explained that he would see White several times a week as she would come in to get ice from the ice machine, use the microwave or make payments. Though he stated that he had seen Hunt with her, he stated he was not able to identify Hunt in the courtroom because he was not wearing his glasses.

When Queen was again asked if he saw Hunt at the Royal, Queen stated, “He was there.”

He added that Hunt and White had also moved a camper into the parking lot of the hotel and were running electric to the camper with an extension cord running out of their hotel room window. In the conclusion of the testimony, Queen confirmed for the defense that he never saw White with any signs of injury or abuse, a detail relevant to a testimony that came later in the trial.

Carol Withrow, an employee with Citi National Bank’s corporate office in West Virginia, confirmed that White had banking accounts with Citi National Bank. The accounts received electronic funds transfers for social security disability payments for the deceased in this case. White was the authorized payee. The account was receiving monthly social security payments in the amount of $733 per month at the time the account was closed in Oct. 31, 2016.

Expert testimony came from Dr. Elizabeth Kryszak, who is employed with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, where she is a clinical psychologist for the child development center. She testified that she commonly works with children who suffer from developmental disabilities. In her profession, she first treated Caudill when he was three-years-old, as the time of his initial diagnosis in March of 2013 at which time she saw no serious health concerns. She later met him for a re-evaluation one year later and still saw no concerns excluding symptoms of his autism.

Kryszak stated that she observed Caudill when he would have outbursts of screaming.

“That was his go to vocalization,” she stated, adding that he would scream when he was bored, happy or wanted something.

The expert added that Caudill had trouble responding to subtle emotions, had trouble interacting with other kids, had communication issues, was still in diapers and displayed repetitive behaviors such as clapping, walking on toes and grinding teeth. She stated that White was present during both visits, but Hunt was not. She recommended an individual education program (IEP) for Caudill, recommented he continued speech and occupational therapies, have as much social interaction as possible and suggested other interventions and resources before talking to the mother about ways to work on Caudill’s behaviors. These methods included ignoring tantrums and rewarding calm behavior, stating that he may have trouble understanding the relationship between his behaviors and punishments.

“He understood cause and effect,” she commented.

The doctor further confirmed that he could be potty trained and could learn to associate behavior with getting things he wanted.

Children Services had been involved in the case since Caudill had gone missing. Jeff Patmore, who currently works for Scioto County Children Services and previously in the case worked for the State of Kentucky children services. He explained that he never had contact with Hunt. He did, however, make arrangements to make a surprise visit to meet White when she was meeting with her grandmother to pick up clothing and money. When he spoke with White, Patmore says White informed him that Hunt had been abusing her and that Caudill was at a friend’s house with her boyfriend. He agreed to follow her to the house to help remove White and her son from danger. Instead, she fled. Patmore further stated that she had no signs of bruising or abuse.

Before concluding for the day, was testimony from brothers Charles Lennex Jr. and Josh Lennex. Charles Lennex admitted that he is an addict who is currently illegally using Suboxone and has known Hunt since he was a child. He added that White, Hunt and three children had visited him stating they were homeless and asking to borrow a tent. This was just prior to them moving into the Royal Inn. Charles explained that during the time that White and Hunt were staying at the hotel, he would visit to sell them drugs. He admitted to selling them heroin, crack and Suboxone over the following months and seeing them intravenously use Suboxone. He added that he would see the couple whenever they had enough money for drugs, stating that White was panhandling – a statement confirmed by several witnesses.

Charles Lennex testified that one night Hunt visited him, saying he was running from the police, stating that he was going to prison for helping move a body. He later saw information on social media about Caudill being murdered. Charles Lennex was then instrumental in the arrest of Hunt and White, working with detectives to get White to talk and setting up a plan to catch Hunt. In his testimony, Charles Lennex stated that Hunt had contacted him for money. To assist with the investigation, he contacted Hunt offering him money. However, Hunt arrived before law enforcement. The witness testified that Hunt was knocking on his doors and windows.

“I didn’t feel safe to let him in my apartment,” Charles Lennex stated.

He then testified that he called his brother asking for help. According to his statements from the stand, he did not tell his brother that he was assisting police. Rather, he stated that Hunt was trying to get in his home.

“My brother hit him with a baseball bat. I don’t know how many times,” Charles Lennex stated before stating that he also was hitting Hunt.

“He never said he killed no one,” he clarified.

He also explained that during the beating, Hunt was screaming that he did not do it.

Josh Lennex later confirmed that he arrived and starting beating Hunt with an aluminum ball bat before law enforcement arrived.

“I knew he was wanted for killing a kid,” Josh Lennex stated. “I didn’t know if he had a weapon or not.”

Charles Lennex testified that he later accepted a $200 reward for assisting in the arrest of Hunt. The reward was offered by an individual on social media. He added that he did not know about the reward until after Hunt was arrested. Josh Lennex testified that he did not receive any reward money and also did not know of the reward.

Day three of the trail will begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday in Judge William Marshall’s courtroom at the Scioto County Common Pleas Court in Portsmouth.

By Nikki Blankenship

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