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Judge again warns courtroom visitors in Willis jury trial

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Updated: December 16, 2013 6:36AM



VALPARAISO — For the second day, Porter County Superior Judge Roger Bradford admonished the supporters of both sides of a criminal trial.

On Thursday, it was for two matters that could affect the trial of Benjamin W. Willis II, 25, of Valparaiso.

He chastised those in the courtroom for telling witnesses what had happened in the trial, where Willis is being tried for alleged abuse that led to the death of a 7-month-old.

Witnesses are not allowed in the courtroom when not testifying to avoid influencing their testimony.

Should the behavior continue, “I’m going to clear the courtroom, I’m going to close the courtroom, and nobody will be allowed in,” Bradford said in a calm but stern voice.

Bradford also told both sides that they were not to have contact with each other or approach each other outside the courtroom. That includes using social media to attack or disparage the defendant or the mother of 7-month-old Keagan Fishel, he said.

On Wednesday, Bradford chastised the various supporters for leaving fliers in businesses around the courthouse that made accusations about Willis.

Court security collected the fliers, which the judge felt were an attempt to influence jurors.

Willis faces 20 to 50 years on each of two Class A felony charges, Class A felony neglect of a dependent and Class A felony battery, and faces up to three years on a Class D felony battery charge.

Deputy Porter County Prosecutor Trista Hudson’s case alleges Willis fractured the baby’s skull on March 8, 2012, which caused Keagan Fishel to die two days later.

Defense attorney Clay Patton tried to keep photos of the autopsy out of evidence during the testimony of forensic pathologist Ken Obenson because the photos would inflame the jurors, but Bradford overrode Patton’s objection.

Obenson said that because the child’s skull fracture was complex and not lineal, it was likely the death was homicide.

That the trauma came from an earlier slip in the tub was possible but not probable, he said.

Under cross examination, Obenson testified that a previously cracked rib he found during the autopsy likely happened weeks before the child’s death.

Patton had brought into question the mother’s parenting abilities in his cross examination of her on Wednesday, noting she left the baby alone in an unsafe situation — in a bouncy chair on a sofa.



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