Clarksville man backs out of guilty plea in connection with 3-year-old's death
A Clarksville man charged in connection with the death of a 3-year-old girl was set to plead guilty to the crime, but changed his mind at the last minute on Monday.
JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- A Clarksville man charged in connection with the death of a 3-year-old girl was set to plead guilty to the crime, but changed his mind at the last minute on Monday.
According to court documents, Joseph Manske had signed a deal to plead guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in death, and neglect of a depending resulting in serious bodily injury on Friday.
But on Monday morning, he backed out of the deal.
Manske, along with the child's mother, Cynthia Weigleb are accused of neglect in connection with the February 2015 death of 3-year-old Alexis Arensman. Medical reports show she was horrifically abused, suffering broken ribs, head injuries and a burn on her face, which likely came from her mouth being taped shut. The coroner's report cited "Battered Child Syndrome" as the cause of death.
"The truth is, I had nothing to do with her death," Manske told the court Monday morning. "I'm not going to plead to something I did not do."
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull says he sees things differently.
"We believe that the evidence in this case justifies him being charged and convicted of these crimes," Mull said. "We have believed that all along, and we are eager to present that evidence to a jury."
If he had opted to move ahead with the plea deal, Manske would have faced a sentence of a total of 40 years on the two charges -- 30 years for the charge of neglect of a dependent resulting in death, and 10 years for the charge of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious physical injury.
According to probable cause affidavits obtained by WDRB News, authorities allege that Weigleb and Manske, "did knowingly place said dependent in a situation that endangered the dependent's life or health, to-wit: a living environment where she sustained severe injuries which were not timely and properly medically treated; and which resulted in the death of Alexis Arensman."
The probable cause affidavit goes on to detail what Manske told investigators. He allegedly told officials on Feb. 22 that he and Weigleb had never done more than spank the children on the outside of the pants -- but added that he had seen Weigleb "cross the line."
"Joseph reiterated that nobody else in the house aside from him and Cynthia would have disciplined their children," the affidavit states. "Joseph advised that he doesn't believe that he has ever went overboard when disciplining the children but that he has seen Cynthia cross the line and had to intervene. Joseph defined 'crossing the line' as spanking the children too many times and too hard. Joseph stated that Cynthia would swat them five to six times instead of the customary three times and that the force she generated was 150-200 percent. Joseph advised that Cynthia crosses the line 1-2 times a week."
He also allegedly told investigators that Weigleb spanked Alexis Arensman "too hard" before putting her to bed on Saturday night or Sunday morning, and that she cried herself to sleep after it.
An autopsy was performed on Alexis at the Louisville Medical Examiner's Office on Feb. 23, 2015. According to the affidavit, multiple injuries to the child were discovered, including "gastric perforation, liver laceration, multiple scalp impact sites, posterior rib fractures, a mask-like burn to the face, and multiple cutaneous contusions and abrasions of multiple surfaces."
The final autopsy report was released on May 27, 2015 and cited the cause of death as "battered child syndrome with multiple inflicted blunt force injuries to multiple areas on the body of multiple ages."
According to the probable cause affidavit, Dr. Amy Burrows-Beckham, who performed the autopsy, issued the following opinion: "The cause of death in this battered child is complications of acute an chronic inflicted intra-abdominal injuries with probable sepsis. Asphyxia via smothering cannot be ruled out as a contributory factor."
Both defendants also face neglect charges in connection with injuries sustained to Arensman's sister, another child of Weigleb's, because of her environment.
"It's disappointing again, because I think when you have a 3-year-old who is dead because of -- basically -- child abuse, I would like to be able to charge or prove a murder count in that situation," Clark Co. Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said, "but as a prosecutor I'm bound by the evidence I have or don't have."
According to the affidavit, the Indiana Department of Childhood Services removed Alexis' sister from the care of Weigleb and Manske on Feb. 22, 2015. She was then taken to Kosair Children's Hospital for a precautionary evaluation. There, it was discovered that she had sustained numerous injuries, including, "left subdural hematoma, posterior left 9th and 10th rib fractures, laceration of the pancreas (requiring surgery), bruises to the face, legs and back, and abrasions to the face)."
Dr. Vinod Rao, Child Abuse Pediatrician for Kosair, determined that her injuries, "are not consistent with injuries sustained during normal childhood activity for a child of her development," but were consistent with "inflicted child physical abuse," according to court documents.
Alexis' sister allegedly told investigators that Alexis Arensman was, "in the back bedroom with daddy and he hurt her," adding that, "I heard my daddy slam her on the kitchen floor."
Manske and Weigleb are charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death (in connection with Alexis Arensman) and neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury (in connection with Alexis' sister).
In an interview with WDRB in November 2015, Mull explained why the two were charged with neglect instead of murder.
"It's disappointing again, because I think when you have a 3-year-old who is dead because of -- basically -- child abuse, I would like to be able to charge or prove a murder count in that situation," Mull said, "but as a prosecutor I'm bound by the evidence I have or don't have."
In 2015, the 3-year-old's great-grandmother says Weigleb wouldn't do anything like this to her children, and blamed Manske.
"In my heart he's the one that hurt them and I just can't shake it," said Vera McRae.
The coroner says Alexis' body showed signs of blunt force trauma and that asphyxia from smothering could not be ruled out.
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