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Questions raised in child’s death

March 27, 2009
By PAUL GIANNAMORE, Business editor

WINTERSVILLE - The defense in the murder case against Joseph Kyle Moran, 25, charged in the death of 18-month-old Christopher Joy Jr., will hinge on the possibility that the child's grandmother harmed him.

The grandmother, Terri Utzler, 47, was found dead Wednesday by a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy who had gone to her home in Richmond to take her to the sheriff's department Wednesday to prepare for Moran's preliminary hearing on Thursday. Utzler took her own life.

Defense counsel Dennis McNamara said prosecutor Thomas Straus proved only the "possible cause, not probable cause" that Moran was responsible for the child's death. Wintersville county court Judge Michael Bednar bound Moran over to the Jefferson County grand jury on $2 million bond.

Article Photos

BOUND OVER — Joseph Kyle Moran talks with his attorney, Dennis McNamara, in Wintersville county court Thursday morning after a preliminary hearing during which Moran was bound over to the Jefferson County grand jury on a murder charge in the death of 18-month-old Christopher Joy Jr. on March 16. Bond for Moran was continued at $2 million.
-- Paul Giannamore

Sheriff Fred Abdalla testified that Moran signed a statement and reviewed the sheriff's notes taken during an interview following the death of the baby on March 16. Abdalla said Moran stated Utzler, who lived in a duplex next door to the trailer where Moran lived with Joy's mother, Mollie Beck, brought the boy home around 11 p.m. March 15 to put him to bed. Abdalla said Moran stated the boy coughed around midnight and Moran gave him a bottle and heard the cough again around 12:30 a.m. Abdalla said Moran tried to perform CPR on the child and said he had slapped the child on the face and shook him to try to get him breathing. Abdalla said Moran's statement indicated that he had become focused on performing CPR "and just lost his mind."

The county 911 service was called about 2:30 a.m. Abdalla said no one but the child and Moran were in the mobile home between the time Utzler put the baby to bed and when the 911 call was made. Abdalla said there were 32 baby wipes covered in blood found in the home, along with a diaper with some blood in it and blood on the floor of the adult bedroom in the home.

He said a towel with blood on it also was found in the home.

The death certificate indicated the child died from multiple blunt impacts to the head.

In summarizing the argument before Bednar, Straus said, "A happy, healthy, dancing child was entrusted to this defendant." The child was then "exclusively in control" of the defendant for about two and one-half hours before the 911 call was made.

Under questioning from McNamara, Abdalla said the sheriff's office had been called to Utzler's duplex on prior occasions and "usually alcohol was involved." He said Moran had not been involved in those prior incidents.

Utzler, Beck's mother, lived on one side of a duplex on South Green Street and Utzler's mother, Carol Finn, lived on the other side. Beck, Moran and Joy lived in a nearby trailer, Abdalla said.

Beck's cousin, 13-year-old Hannah Finn, testified that she had known Moran since she was about 6 or 7 years old. She said Beck had brought the baby to Carol Finn's side of the duplex before leaving for work at about 9 p.m. March 15. She described Joy as "his happy self, dancing and happy."

She said Joy was recovering from a recent foot injury and an infection that caused his lips to bleed. She testified she saw bruises on the child's face, but that they were not unusual for a small child.

Finn said Moran was not at the mobile home around 10 p.m. when Beck left for work and Terry Utzler brought the child back to the mobile home 11:30 p.m. She said there had been an argument between Carol Finn and Utzler when Utzler left to bring the baby to the mobile home.

She said Joy and Moran got along well but cried sometimes when Moran was watching the child and she or Beck walked into the room. McNamara said all indications are that Beck was a good mother and wouldn't have left the baby with Moran if she thought he wasn't a good caretaker.

McNamara said Utzler was subpoenaed a week ago to be a defense witness and by the prosecution on Tuesday.

McNamara asked Abdalla if he had heard Utzler express guilt over the child's death since March 16.

"It was with a broken heart, that she couldn't live without the child," he said.

McNamara also indicated there was a dispute at Utzler's residence Sunday with Utzler indicating that her mother and the Joy family were accusing her of having killed Christopher Joy.

(Giannamore can be contacted at

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