Hamilton man sentenced to 37 years in oil scalding of mom, baby

Michael Maloney, right, with attorney Ched Peck, appeared in Butler County Common Pleas Court for a hearing Wednesday, May 25, 2022 on charges in connection with pouring hot oil on a woman and child. NICK GRAHAM/FILE PHOTO

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Michael Maloney, right, with attorney Ched Peck, appeared in Butler County Common Pleas Court for a hearing Wednesday, May 25, 2022 on charges in connection with pouring hot oil on a woman and child. NICK GRAHAM/FILE PHOTO

A man who has been to prison once for taking a life has been found guilty of burglary and felonious assault times two for throwing hot vegetable oil on a woman and her baby while they slept.

A jury found Michael Maloney, 42, guilty Friday afternoon in Butler County Common Pleas Court after three days of testimony. He was convicted of severely burning his cousin, Jayla Witt, and her 17-month-old son, Tobias.

Judge Greg Stephens then sentenced Maloney to 27 years for the crimes and an additional 10 years for the classification of a repeat violent offender for a total of 37 years.

Maloney bought a container of vegetable oil the morning of Dec. 21 at Kroger on Erie Boulevard in Hamilton, broke into his cousin’s house, cooked the oil in a pot and walked 18 steps to the bedroom where he poured it on the mother and child.

The defense said the incident was an accident that happened when Maloney was startled while cooking breakfast for Witt.

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Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress told the jury 20-year-old Witt suffered severe burns to 15% of her body, including her head, torso and face. Her son suffered burns on 7% of his body.

Witt sat in the front row with her father during the trial. She also testified about the assault and walked in front of the jury box, showing her scars.

Witt woke about 7:50 a.m. to the burn on her body and did not know why she was burned or who had burned her.

Detectives responded to her frantic calls to 911 and saw the severity of her burns. As Hamilton detectives walked up the steps, a smell of vegetable oil got stronger and the bedding was wet with the liquid. A back door window, once covered with cardboard, had been breached.

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Security video from businesses along Erie Boulevard show Maloney leaving the Cove Motel on the morning of the incident and walking into Kroger where he bought “one item only — a 48-ounce bottle of vegetable oil,” Burress said. Then he walked to Witt’s house close by on Grand Boulevard.

“(He) entered the residence, heated up the vegetable oil and threw it all over Jayla Witt and her 17-month old son,” Burress said. Then Maloney fled to Kentucky, where detectives found him six days later.

The jury saw numerous videos of Maloney’s trek to Kroger then the scene of the crime and back to the motel, where he was wearing different clothes.

Detective Tony Nichting of the Hamilton Police Department showed the jury the saucepan with a bit of oil found on Witt’s greasy bed sheets and the the burned pillows.

Maloney told detectives several versions of what happened at Witt’s house, including he wasn’t there, and he was there but heard Witt arguing with someone who ran out of the house, and last that he was cooking breakfast for Witt, walked up the steps to the bedroom with the oil and was “startled” when she woke up, causing him to throw the oil on her and the baby.

A search warrant obtained for an injury to Maloney’s finger showed a burn, Nichting said during testimony.

The defense told the jury that Maloney had been living with Witt until shortly before the incident. Defense attorney Ched Peck pointed out there was no motive for Maloney to assault Witt, whom he referred to as his “niece.”

“It was accidental,” Peck said. “He was going to cook for her and she surprised him,” Peck said. The defense attorney also noted Maloney took no measures to hide his identity from security cameras, including in Kroger. And, Peck said, Witt could not identify who had thrown the oil.

There was some evidence at the trial that Maloney had been asked to leave Witt’s residence days before the incident, leading to some conflict.

Maloney pleaded guilty in 2000 in Butler County Common Pleas Court to voluntary manslaughter for beating a man to death with a baseball bat. Judge Keith Spaeth sentenced Maloney to the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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