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MASSILLON -- Felony counts against two women charged with obstructing an investigation into a 19-month-old boy's death have been sent to a Stark County grand jury.
Stephanie Buchanan and Jasmin Nance could face more serious charges, potentially including murder, in the case.
Buchanan, 26, is charged with obstructing justice, and Nance, 25, faces a count of obstructing official business. The charges, fifth-degree felonies, became the crux of an impassioned argument between defense attorneys and Massillon City Prosecutor John Simpson at Friday's joint preliminary hearing for the co-defendants.
A Jackson Township detective testified that police are waiting for toxicology results and a cause of death for the boy before more charges are filed.
"The state wants to keep (Nance) in jail because they're investigating a murder," said attorney Kevin Ankney, of the Stark County Public Defender's Office. He argued that questions at the hearing about the death of the child were not relevant to whether there was evidence to charge Nance with felony obstruction instead of a misdemeanor. "The state has made it clear why they want (Nance) in jail, and it's clear why they've charged (her with obstruction); they've charged this as a holder."
Simpson, meanwhile, contended the obstruction charges are felonies because of a Cuyahoga County warrant that had been outstanding for Nance on a charge of endangering children related to the 19-month-old boy who died. Nance also had been with the boy when she called 911 earlier this month.
The two women, the boy and four other children had been living in a room at a motel on Sunset Strip NW for about a month, according to testimony at Friday's hearing. Police said Nance and Buchanan misled them during the investigation into the boy's death regarding Nance's name and other information. The other four children have been placed in the temporary custody of the Stark County Department of Job and Family Services.
Children given adult Benadryl
Kim Haines, a Jackson Township detective, said at the hearing the Stark County Coroner's Office has indicated there is evidence the 19-month-old boy had been abused.
Buchanan is the mother of all the children in the case, Haines testified. Nance is transgender, according to testimony, and Buchanan's children refer to her as "daddy," Haines said.
The children -- ages 9, 6 (twins), 4 and 19 months -- were given varying doses of adult Benadryl, Haines said under questioning from Simpson. During a police interview, Nance admitted watching the children that day and twice giving the 19-month-old boy Benadryl, the detective testified.
Following the 911 call, medics tried to revive the child at the motel and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to testimony.
Buchanan was working and was not at the motel when medics arrived, Haines said.
Nance also is charged with a felony count of endangering children filed in Cuyahoga County. According to court records, she was indicted last August on two counts of child endangering for an incident in April 2016 involving a 6-month-old child. Investigators said the victim in the child endangering case is the same child who was found unresponsive in the motel room.
According to paperwork Stark County Job and Family Services filed to get temporary custody of the children, Buchanan and Nance have been involved in a relationship.
They were living in Cleveland in 2016 when Cuyahoga County social workers investigated an incident in which the boy, then about 6 months old, suffered a fractured arm; that investigation led to the child endangering charges.
After the boy's death, Stark County Job and Family Services investigated the case. All four of the siblings had a variety of injuries that were healing, according to the agency's complaint filed in Stark County Family Court. One child had excessive bruising on her neck, belt marks on her abdomen, scratches and cigarette burns. Another girl had belt marks, while the boy had healing wounds to his head, according to the filing.
Cuyahoga County child protective services have had cases involving Buchanan dating back to 2009. Concerns focused on a lack of appropriate supervision for the children, unstable housing, Buchanan's mental health and special needs of her children.
At Friday's hearing, Judge Edward Elum lowered each defendant's bond to $50,000, noting the charges are low-level felonies. Simpson objected to lowering the bond; he said he considers the defendants flight risks.
In 2016, following a breakup in their relationship, Buchanan and Nance reconciled and left Ohio for Georgia to avoid Nance's arrest. Neither defendant apparently has a permanent address nor a connection to Stark County. A warrant for Nance was issued Aug. 29, when she failed to appear for arraignment on the child endangering charges.