Testimony underway in trial of Whitehouse woman accused of abusing foster children

The boys told a school counselor that they were fearful of their foster parents and for their own lives.
Testimony underway in trial of Whitehouse woman accused of abusing foster children
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 11:29 AM CDT|Updated: May. 16, 2023 at 8:10 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Testimony began on Tuesday in the criminal case against a Whitehouse woman who is charged with abusing her twin foster children.

Cheryl Layne, 46, was arrested in September 2019 and charged with third-degree felony injury to a child. During opening arguments, the state alleged that Cheryl Layne hit her foster sons with an archery arrow after they did not clean their room. It is also alleged that the boys’ foster father pushed at least one of the boys’ faces into a plate of food because they did not finish eating. The defense rebutted, claiming that the accusations against Layne amounts to government overreach, taking away the authority of parents within their own homes. The defense claimed that parents should be able to punish and discipline children as a means of deterrence from future bad behavior.

Prosecution and defense give their opening arguments.

The first witness called was a Whitehouse ISD junior high counselor who said they received a note asking her to contact the boys, who were both students in Whitehouse ISD. The counselor said they noticed that the boys’ clothes did not fit properly and were stained and that the boys looked stressed and anxious.

They said one of the boys would cry on and off and looked emotionally distressed. The counselor testified that the boys said when their foster father pushed one of the boys’ face into the plate of food, it caused a nose bleed. Immediately after the plate incident, the counselor testified, the boys told them that Layne told one of the boys to get a belt because it was her “turn to hit them.” It was at this time the counselor said they learned the boys had bruises on them.

The boys told the counselor that they were fearful of their foster parents and for their own lives. They said Cheryl and Mark Layne told them not to tell anyone about what had happened.

During cross-examination of the counselor, the defense argued that there’s no proof of where the boys got bruised and that it is just as likely they sustained the injuries from playing football. The defense also argued that Layne was not present during the plate incident.

The next witness called was the school nurse who examined one of the boys. She testified that the boy said he was bruised by his foster father who “slammed his head into the trash can.” The nurse said the boy also told her he sustained injuries from his foster mother beating him with a belt and striking him with an archery arrow. The nurse said she notified law enforcement because the boys said they didn’t feel safe going home and that the described injuries were consistent with the marks found on the boy’s body.

A detective spoke next, reviewing photos of the bruises and marks considered to be consistent with possible hits from a rod and/or belt. She discussed the nature and location of the injuries, what items and amount of force may have been used, along with what may have been happening when the child was injured. She also considered the age of the child.

The detective said there are times when she does not pursue cases, when arrest charges are not given, or when CPS is overruled. In this case, however, an arrest warrant was sought and executed.

The defense then began cross-examination and insinuated the boys’ stories could have been influenced by other people they talked to before the detective. The defense asked if the injuries could have been caused by something other than a belt, and the detective said they could. However, the detective insisted her investigation was not influenced by confirmation bias.

The defense continued by asking why the detective had not interviewed Layne herself as a witness, to which the detective said she felt she already had enough information for probable cause to pursue an arrest warrant.

Next, the state called a Smith County Sheriff’s Office detective to the stand, who showed photos of archery arrows and a leather belt, stating the belt was found on a table in the home, among other belts. The detective also described possible blood stains on a pillow and blood detected on the floor; they were spotted using a special chemical.

The state followed this with testimony from a forensic investigator, who addressed the blood on the pillow. The defense asked whether testing could indicate how long the blood had been on the pillow, and the investigator said it could not.