Ashley Schwarz sentenced to 3 life sentences for 2020 death of 8-year-old
This also came with $5,000 fines for both the charges of injury to a child, and injury to a child by omission.
Aug. 29, 2020: Trial Background
An Odessa couple was arrested and charged with capital murder following the death of an 8-year-old girl.
Police responded to a medical call in the 4300 block of Locust Avenue on Aug. 29, 2020. Upon their arrival, they found the child, Jaylin, unresponsive. She would later be pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators found out that Jaylin had allegedly been punished and was not allowed to eat breakfast that day. They also discovered that the couple, 44-year-old Daniel Schwarz, and 34-year-old Ashley Schwarz, allegedly forced the girl to jump on a trampoline for an extended period of time in temperatures north of 100 degrees. Jaylin was said to have been denied water by the couple since she was not jumping like she was told to.
According to court documents, Ashley and Daniel were not Jaylin's biological parents. Back in 2017, Jaylin's biological mother and the stepsister of Ashley Schwarz, Alysha Anderton, gave up her parental rights. At the time, it seemed like the best interest of Jaylin and her future.
Despite it seeming like a better situation for Jaylin, Anderton's attorney Joshua Lowell Carpenter said that the home Jaylin walked into was not a happy one, and there were prolonged disciplinary actions that were similar to torture. Carpenter also claimed that there were other times before the eventual homicide that the Schwarzes made Jaylin and another child in the home perform exercises without anything to drink or eat.
Anderton also claimed that she didn't recognize her daughter because it had been three years since she made last contact with her, since the Schwarzes refused contact between the two parties. When Anderton first gave up Jaylin, she was allowed to keep contact with her that was agreed upon through mediation. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner ruled Jaylin's death as a homicide after performing an autopsy.
Ashley and Daniel Schwarz were officially booked into the Ector County Jail on Oct. 12, 2020 after police obtained arrest warrants. Both Schwarzes were given a bond of $500,000. Ashley and Daniel were also later each charged with two counts of injury to a child.
The Schwarzes did file motions to reduce their bond amounts, but both were denied. In April of 2021, Ashley Schwarz was released from the Ector County Law Enforcement Center after posting bond, while Daniel would be released after posting bond in August of 2021.
The trial for Ashley Schwarz is set to begin on April 24, 2023. Stay with us here at NewsWest 9 as we will continue to provide updates through the trial.
April 24, 2023: Jury Selection Begins
On Monday, potential jurors were only required to fill out a questionnaire.
On Tuesday, they will narrow the jury down from about 90 to 14.
Opening statements are expected on Wednesday.
April 25, 2023: Day 1 of Trial
In the morning, the jury was narrowed down to 14, following presentations by representatives for the State of Texas and the defense of Ashley Schwarz.
William Prasher and Carmen Villalobos are the attorneys for the state, while Scott Layh and Glenn Harwood are the defense attorneys for Schwarz.
Judge John Shrode swore in the jury and gave them their instructions.
Discussions aimed at finding a fair and impartial jury, to which several people stood down due to having young kids of their own.
10 possible witnesses were named in the process and opening statements were heard earlier in the afternoon.
Schwarz pleaded not guilty to three indictments that alleged she knowingly killed Jaylin, while also causing bodily injury and injury in general.
The jury was told by the state that the Schwarzes were allegedly remodeling when the children were outside and the child went from healthy to dead.
The state mentioned that the cause of death was dehydration, while her younger sister was with her outside in the heat and survived the alleged punishment on the trampoline.
Her younger sister will testify later this week at some point, and the defense claimed that she will show Daniel and Ashley Schwarz as loving parents.
The jury was told by the defense that the Schwarzes took Jaylin from her biological mother who they said had a meth problem, homeschooled the children and took them on trips together.
The defense stated that the allegations of no food or no water being given was absurd, and that water bottles were always present.
Witnesses with the Odessa Police Department and Odessa Fire Rescue spoke about their response and the scene on Aug. 29, 2020 when Jaylin’s death happened.
Caleb Lacey, with OPD, testified that he performed CPR on the child, but she showed no signs of life. He also mentioned her body was warm.
Terry Brumbalow, with OFR, testified that he made no attempts to revive her because it was too late. He said rigor was present in her body, as well as pooling of blood in the veins and discoloration. He also noted her body was hot.
David Morgan, with OPD, testified that he noticed the child's toes were purple and that there was discoloration in her fingers. He noted that the Schwarzes told him they found her body a few minutes before they called dispatch.
Danielle Rudolph, who formerly worked with OPD in the Crime Scene Division, described images that were taken from the residence. Those images showed the discoloration of the child's body, as well as the trampoline outside. She did not recall seeing shade outside or water bottles.
Trial proceedings ended for the day just before 5 P.M.
April 26, 2023: Day 2 of Trial
On day 2 of the trial, Sam Chavez, of OPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division at the time of Jaylin's death, testified as evidence was presented.
It was revealed that Jaylin starting jumping on the trampoline and rolling with the dogs in the morning. Schwarz had taken a water bottle to her just after noon, but there was not certainty on if she took the water.
It was revealed that Jaylin had not eaten breakfast or lunch the day she died, but that there was access to water in the form of a hose and dog bowls, as well as water bottles offered to her. No water bottles were present in the backyard area. It was stated that she had consumed some water that day, but not a ton.
Chavez admitted that video evidence from that day showed Schwarz shocked to learn of burn marks on the child as well.
Jaylin's younger sister interviewed at Harmony Home the day of Jaylin’s death, and Chavez interviewed her a few days later, along with Jessica Wiseman of Child Protective Services. Chavez confirmed both interviews were consistent in saying that Jaylin was forced to jump on the trampoline as punishment and that water and food were not given.
Chavez shared the information from his interview with Jaylin’s younger sister with Tasha Greenberg, the deputy chief medical examiner from Tarrant County, who performed the autopsy.
Greenberg performed the autopsy two days after Jaylin’s death.
Greenberg had received an investigative report, OPD’s police information, the EMS record and past medical records, and noted that was important information to have. She mentioned that it was not immediately apparent what the cause of death was.
Greenberg was told by OPD that Jaylin was on the ground outside, had been jumping on the trampoline in temperatures over 100 degrees and that it was a form of punishment with water not provided.
Greenberg confirmed again her initial ruling that the cause of death was dehydration and hypothermic conditions. She said death from dehydration could take up to days, but a hot environment can accelerate that — along with added exertion — to an hours-long timeframe.
Greenberg said one should expect to see some changes if the individual is being observed. Sunken eyes, vitreous fluid in eyes and skin temperature getting warmer are all symptoms she mentioned. Greenberg said Jaylin had sunken eyes.
Chavez said his attitude towards the case changed after the autopsy.
Greenberg clarified that hypothermia is a higher-than-normal body temperature. She responded to a question by the state that it was fair to say dehydration and hypothermia together is a vicious cycle. Jaylin was deemed warm and so were the ambient temperatures, so Greenberg believed hypothermia was occurring.
Greenberg said that higher temperature can also accelerate rigor development, along with physical exertion. Images of the autopsy showed scrapes, post-mortem sunburn and skin slippage areas, as well as bruising.
Greenberg stated that Jaylin weighed 48.9 pounds, which was considered low for her age, and size played an impact.
Jaylin’s past medical and CPS records were brought forward by the defense as relevant for her potentially having meth in her system from before she was under the custody of the Schwarzes.
Greenberg said that any connections with meth as a child were not present, although if there was, it could have had an impact on her. She said that would not be connected to death by dehydration.
A few other medical findings could not be 100% ruled out as factors, but the cause of death is still the same, according to Greenberg.
The manner of death is still a homicide, with Greenberg saying that is a medical term rather than a legal one. Greenberg concluded it as an act or omission by a person that led to someone’s death.
In these circumstances, forced exercise and a lack of water were noted. Greenberg also mentioned inattention or neglect as ways to rule someone under that manner of death.
She admitted to the defense that if a testimony shows there was access to water and no punishment involved, that could change things.
Trial proceedings will resume at 9:30 a.m. at the Ector County Courthouse.
April 27, 2023: Day 3 of Trial
On Thursday, the jury heard from Jaylin's younger sister, who is 10 years old.
She referred to Ashley and Daniel as mom and dad, and noted she sometimes loved them. She did not recognize Ashley in the courtroom until Ashley was pointed out during cross-examination.
On the day of Jaylin's death, her younger sister had breakfast and was pretty sure Jaylin did as well.
She testified that Ashley told them to jump on the trampoline, and that sometimes jumping on the trampoline was punishment. On the day Jaylin died, she said it was one of those times. Sometimes they jumped on the trampoline for fun, but it happened a lot as punishment. Sometimes it was serious, and sometimes it was not.
She mentioned they brought two cups of water outside and were never offered any more. They took breaks to get water from their cups that were half-filled up.
The girls were allegedly outside for hours and never checked on, while she also noted it was hot and not fun jumping. She said the door was locked and she eventually got back inside, but Jaylin did not. Ashley would later testify that the door was not locked.
On that day, she said Jaylin was laying on the trampoline and not moving when her last words to Jaylin were "the sooner you jump, the sooner you can come in.” She heard Daniel carrying in Jaylin and Ashley calling 911.
Jaylin's younger sister discussed that it was not all bad with the Schwarzes, as they took a trip to Florida and it was fun when they went to a farm in Midland. She said she misses her sister.
The defense showed images of the past to Jaylin's younger sister, and she admitted they did quite a bit as a family and took many pictures.
The defense made it's case in the afternoon, as Ashley Schwarz testified.
Ashley said the day Jaylin died started as a normal Saturday as Jaylin and her younger sister played outside.
Ashley said the trampoline was not used for punishment and that the girls were not in trouble that day. She said they had access to water bottles and knew where they were. She noted there were water bottles in the refrigerator. Jaylin's younger sister had testified earlier in the day that her and Jaylin didn't know they could get in the refrigerator, so they didn't.
Ashley explained that access to water and the house were never denied, and that she made breakfast and lunch that day for the girls.
Ashley mentioned that both girls had come in to use the restroom and they had their water bottles refilled.
Ashley said it was common for the girls to play for hours outside in the morning. Jaylin had said she was hot that day, but Ashley did not see any concerns with Jaylin at the time she came in, and they acknowledged each other later while Jaylin was outside rolling with their dogs.
When Daniel brought Jaylin inside, he and Ashley tried to cool her down. Ashley noticed that she had no pulse and called 911.
Ashley said her reaction from body footage that day showed hysteria and shock. She still lives in the same house, which she said is difficult. She was emotional in saying she misses her daughter.
During cross-examination, Ashley said the girls potentially thought they were in trouble. Ashley said her and Daniel would discipline the children to teach them right and wrong.
The state asked Ashley if Jaylin's younger sister had lied in her testimony, and Ashley said she might have been mistaken. Ashley said she did not do anything that would have made them believe they were being punished.
Jessica Wiseman, an investigator with Child Protective Services, testified on Thursday. She interviewed with Jaylin's younger sister, along with Sam Chavez of OPD, a couple of days after Jaylin's death.
Wiseman spoke with Daniel and Ashley later that night on the day Jaylin died, and she also took photos of the home and trampoline. The defense alleged that Wiseman made threats to Ashley and Daniel during their conversation that night, but Wiseman denied those during her testimony.
Justin Caid, a member of the robbery-homicide division for OPD, assisted in the following days after Jaylin's death by searching in the backyard. He had the fire department measure temperatures on September 4th, 2020. On that day, the ground temperature was 150 degrees, the trampoline was 110 degrees and the high temperature was 91 degrees. On the day of Jaylin's death, the high was 97 degrees. The state would later question Ashley letting the girls be barefoot in those conditions.
Rick Lawhom, a neighbor of the Schwarzes, said he never saw anything inappropriate in his testimony. He noted they were happy and a normal family.
Cathy Lawhom, a neighbor of the Schwarzes, said in her testimony that she saw nothing inappropriate. She mentioned they looked happy and that she thought the girls were the children of the Schwarzes. The Schwarzes had gained foster custody in 2017.
Trial proceedings will resume at 9:30 A.M. on Friday at the Ector County Courthouse.
April 28, 2023: Day 4 of Trial
Day 4 began with the defense calling its final three witnesses to the stand.
Erika Barrientos, a neighbor of the Schwarzes, said she saw them as a normal family and that the girls — Jaylin and her younger sister — would play outside. She noted that she never witnessed anything inappropriate, and that she saw Ashley as a loving mother.
Junior Barrientos, a neighbor of the Schwarzes, had been outside with the kids in the past. He said the girls would tell stories about the farm they would go to, and that they seemed happy. He mentioned that he did not know that the girls were not the Schwarzes biological children.
Michele Baney, a witness that had known Ashley since she was a child, said she had spent time with the kids in the past. She testified never seeing any inappropriate interactions, and she had no negative thoughts for Ashley as a parent.
After recess, Judge Shrode read the jury their instructions and the three verdicts.
The first indictment was for capital murder — intentionally or knowingly exposing Jaylin to extreme heat, while forcing her to engage in strenuous exercise, while preventing her from receiving adequate food and/or water.
The second indictment was for injury to a child — intentionally or knowingly exposing Jaylin to extreme heat, while forcing her to engage in strenuous exercise, while preventing her from receiving adequate food and/or water.
The third indictment was for injury to a child by omission — failing to provide adequate supervision, shelter, medical care, and/or food and water; and the defendant had a legal duty to act, to-unit: the child’s mother or legal guardian.
Closing statements began early in the afternoon, with the state arguing that Ashley knew of the dangers involved in dehydration and the heat and fainting spells Jaylin had experienced in the past.
Villalobos reminded the jury that the cause of death was dehydration with hypothermic conditions.
The state put together a timeframe of events from 1-2 p.m. that day that they claimed left a 15-to-20-minute gap for the Schwarzes to get their story and create a cover-up.
Villalobos showed the timeline of Jaylin jumping around 1 p.m., her being found unresponsive around 1:30-1:35 p.m., Detective Lacey receiving the dispatch call at 1:49 p.m. and her being dead at 1:55 p.m.
Villalobos pointed at Ashley and said she is not a mother, and followed that by asking the jury to find Ashley guilty on all three counts of indictment.
The defense argued they created that timeline by manipulating testimony and said that the state has not come close to the beyond a reasonable doubt threshold.
Layh started by telling the jury not to be confused by the evidence, with the state manipulating what they think evidence is. He later stated that they have no evidence with intent to cause death. He said the way the state is bringing forth the charges means they don’t know if it was inaction or intent.
Layh mentioned that Ashley brought Jaylin to a pediatric cardiologist and neurologist due to the fainting spells. He said that love went both ways between Ashley and Jaylin, and he called Jaylin’s death a tragedy that never belonged in front of a jury.
Layh called the day Jaylin died a normal day when discussing the heat, and also noted that Jaylin was the outside child between the two girls and was used to it.
Layh argued that the facts don’t get to a guilty verdict, and told the jury not to allow the emotions of this case to change that. He told the jury that not guilty on all three verdicts is the right thing.
Prasher made the state’s last argument, saying that video footage showed Ashley calling Jaylin's rolling on the ground a “death roll,” to which he followed by saying Ashley knew what she was doing by leaving Jaylin outside to die. When discussing Greenberg’s testimony, he said Jaylin was outside for hours to die.
Prasher acknowledged that when Jaylin’s younger sister gave her testimony, she did not recognize Ashley in the courtroom, and he brought up that they had been together for three years. He also questioned the amount of punishment that had been done if the girls assumed they were in trouble the day Jaylin died.
Prasher said Ashley was guilty of injury all day long, and that she was responsible for making sure Jaylin had adequate water. He pointed at Ashley multiple times while speaking, and said she “left her [Jaylin] in death roll and walked away.”
Prasher concluded by saying the situation can’t be fixed, but that justice can be given to Jaylin.
Both sides gave passionate, and at times, emotional closing arguments, making their final pleas to the jury before deliberation began.
After about 3 and a half hours of deliberation, at around 6 p.m., the jury found Schwarz guilty on all three charges.
Ashley had her bond revoked immediately, and was then handcuffed and taken into custody. There is only one punishment for capital murder, and that is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The punishments for the second and third indictment will be made on Monday starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Ector County Courthouse.
Stay with NewsWest 9 as we will provide the latest updates.
May 1, 2023: Sentencing
The attorneys presented no further evidence ahead of the punishment charges for the second and third indictment being read to the jury. Ashley did not testify to the jury after the punishment charges were announced.
The attorneys then made closing arguments to the jury for the punishment charges.
Layh started by saying that being a defense attorney is a tough job where they must mitigate and minimize what their clients are accused of, and he said it is about protecting their client’s rights.
Layh mentioned finding hope in a hopeless situation. He noted that the fear of this case is a dead child, and that he did not want to minimize what happened to Jaylin.
Layh stated that he loves the judicial system, but that it’s not a perfect system. He did not agree with the verdicts.
Prasher started by saying he has been a prosecution attorney for 23 years, and that he gets to do the right thing. He told the jury they got the verdicts 100% right.
Prasher said the defense wanted the jury to give Ashley hope, to which he argued that she is alive to have hope, whereas Jaylin is not.
Prasher asked the jury to sentence Ashley to life in prison, and to send a message to the community that children and their future are valued. He also mentioned sending a message to love, cherish and protect children.
After deliberating for around one hour and 45 minutes, the jury decided to give Ashley life in prison for each of the three charges.
The second charge, injury to a child, and the third charge, injury to a child by omission, each came with a $5,000 fine as well.
There were two victim's statements read after the jury had been dismissed.
Debbi Retherford, Jaylin's birth grandmother, said she was shocked when she saw Jaylin's body at the funeral and that she could hardly recognize her. She also mentioned that Ashley had deceit.
Anna Retherford, Jaylin's biological aunt, said Jaylin's death was no accident. She mentioned taking a month-long medical leave from work, and that life hasn't been the same since Jaylin's death. She stated that she was ecstatic when she heard the verdict was guilty, and that justice has been served.
Judge Shrode would conclude by telling Ashley that she would suffer the consequences, and that she has plenty of time to think about what she did.