STOCKTON — The preliminary hearing for a woman accused of causing the death of a 2-year-old boy in Stockton last year came to a halt Thursday afternoon over a possible conflict of interest for the defense attorney in the case.
The matter involves attorney Stratton Barbee, who is representing defendant Chalsey Maynard, the woman accused in the death of Jaxson Love in the summer of 2017. Chalsey Maynard is the wife of Willard Maynard, Jaxson’s father.
Jaxson’s mother, Brittany Gonzales, has said she was told by Chalsey Maynard at the time of Jaxson’s death that the boy died from injuries suffered in a trampoline accident. The prosecution is arguing that Chalsey Maynard abused Jaxson.
Along with representing Chalsey Maynard in the criminal case, Barbee is representing Chalsey and Willard Maynard in a civil lawsuit filed by Gonzales.
On Thursday, prosecutor Kibbe Day raised the possibility of a conflict for Barbee: Could his representation of Willard Maynard in the civil case compromise how Barbee defends Chalsey Maynard in her criminal case?
Day said she raised the issue to protect Chalsey Maynard’s rights as a defendant. Barbee responded to Judge William Johnson.
“There has been nothing I have seen or heard to suggest that I cannot fully represent my client while at the same time defending Mr. Maynard in the civil action,” Barbee said.
Johnson said, “I’ve never had this issue come up before. … I want to make sure we get it right.”
Day weighed in, saying she felt the preliminary hearing had reached a point where the issue of a conflict needed to be considered.
Johnson said he will consider the matter before the preliminary hearing’s scheduled resumption Sept. 20. Barbee said following court Thursday there are several routes the judge could take:
• Do nothing.
• Rule that Barbee cannot represent Chalsey and Willard Maynard in the civil suit.
• Rule that Barbee cannot represent Chalsey Maynard in the criminal case. In this instance, the preliminary hearing would have to start over with Chalsey Maynard defended by a new attorney.
Earlier in the day Thursday, Gonzales and her boyfriend, Austin Mount, gave painful testimony about losing Jaxson, referred to by both witnesses as “the light of our life.”
“(Jaxson) was my little funny guy and definitely a momma’s boy,” Gonzales said. “He loved music. He loved to dance. He loved Mickey Mouse.”
But Gonzales and Mount also said they felt apprehension on several occasions when Jaxson came home with bruises after court-mandated visits with the Maynards.
"I always had concerns for his physical well-being whenever we dropped him off," Mount testified.
On cross-examination, Gonzales acknowledged that in 2012, before Jaxson was born, Gonzales lost custody of her 3-year-old daughter to Child Protective Services for five months after allegedly slapping the girl across the face.
Gonzales said she hit the girl, who is on the autism spectrum, because she was afraid her daughter would damage her teeth while chewing on a zipper.
“In her past she made a singular mistake,” testified Mount, Gonzales’ boyfriend.
Five years later, Gonzales testified, she and Mount learned from the Maynards that Jaxson, who was on a visit, had taken a nap but had not awoken. He died on July 28, 2017.
Gonzales’ supporters sat on one side of the courtroom Thursday, with Maynards’ supporters on the other side of the aisle. At least a half dozen of Gonzales’ supporters wore T-shirts memorialing Jaxson.
During a brief interview during a courtroom break, Willard Maynard said those following the trial should keep open minds about the case until there’s a jury trial and a verdict.
“I just want to say that people should look at both sides,” Maynard said. “We’re here for justice overall. There’s two sides to a coin.”
Willard’s sister, Zohna Everett, was asked outside the courtroom whether she believes Chalsey Maynard is responsible for Jaxson’s death.
“I’ll leave it for the judges to say,” Everett responded. “It’s not my place to say.”
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.