Bond modification denied in case of woman now facing two counts of child neglect resulting in death

BUCKHANNON – An Upshur County magistrate has declined to modify bond in the case of a Buckhannon woman who has been charged with two counts of child neglect resulting in death.

Magistrate Alan Suder denied a motion to modify the $200,000 cash-only bond set in the case of Ciera N. Gillespie, 25, at a preliminary hearing in Upshur County Magistrate Court Thursday morning.

Gillespie, whose two young sons died while they were in the care of her boyfriend, Thomas W. Cunningham, 27, also of Buckhannon, is now facing two counts of child neglect resulting in death after her one-year-old son, Hunter Haze Warner, also passed away from traumatic brain injuries resulting from ‘shaken baby syndrome.’

According to the original story, Gillespie, the mother of two-year-old Joseph Tyler Warner and one-year-old Hunter Haze Warner, allegedly left the two children and her six-year-old daughter in the care of Cunningham despite knowing he was under the influence of a controlled substance while she went to Walmart on the evening of Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.

When Gillespie returned to her Valley Green residence, both children were transported to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, where the two-year-old, Joseph Tyler Warner, was pronounced dead Nov. 30 and the one-year-old, Hunter Haze Warner, died 10 days later on Dec. 10. Both children died from traumatic brain injuries consistent with ‘shaken baby syndrome,” according to the complaint filed by investigating officer Sgt. Rodney Rolenson with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office.

At Thursday’s preliminary hearing, Gillespie’s attorney, Jamella Lockwood, said her client wished to waive her preliminary hearing but also entered a motion to reduce or modify Gillespie’s cash-only bond.

“The bond is currently set at $200,000 cash, and there’s no way for her to make that type of bond,” Lockwood said. “This is her first criminal appearance, your honor, and I understand there are two charges here, but this is her first criminal appearance; she doesn’t have any criminal history other than what we’re here for today. She is not a flight risk, so based on that and safety factors, I think a bond modification is appropriate.”

Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Hinkle objected to Lockwood’s motion, given the death of the second child.

“We have two separate [felony] counts here involving dead children because of the actions and inactions of Ms. Gillespie, so the bond as set is appropriate,” Hinkle said.

Suder said Gillespie’s bond would remain the same.

“The court is going to find that the bond will remain as previously set by the court at $200,000 cash only,” Suder said.

Cunningham, whose preliminary hearing is set for Monday, Dec. 19, is now facing two counts of child abuse resulting in death.

According to the original complaint, on Nov. 28, when Gillespie returned home from Walmart, Cunningham reportedly came running out with the two-year-old, who had blood coming from his nose and mouth and was limp. Upshur EMS was called to the scene and transported both infants to St. Joseph’s Hospital and then Ruby Memorial Hospital.

Rolenson, the investigating officer, interviewed WVU Medicine staff member Dr. Melvin Wright, who said the manner of death for the two-year-old was “traumatic injury consistent [with] ‘shaken baby’ [syndrome], and that the retinal injuries were the worse he had seen in 10 years,” the file states.

Wright also stated that the injuries suffered by the one-year-old were also significant and also resulted from shaken baby syndrome. Wright told police that “it would have to be violent trauma with immediate incapacitation.”

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