Defense: Hot oil poured on woman, baby was an accident

Man accused in incident at Hamilton home just before Christmas.

Prosecutors say Michael Maloney bought a can of vegetable oil at Kroger on Erie Boulevard in Hamilton on the morning of Dec. 21, broke into his cousin’s house, cooked the oil — then went upstairs and threw the hot liquid on the woman and her baby as they slept.

But defense attorney Ched Peck told the Butler County Common Pleas Court jury Tuesday during opening statements that the incident was an accident that happened when Maloney was startled while cooking breakfast for Jayla Witt.

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Maloney, 42, of Hamilton, is charged with aggravated burglary and two counts of felonious assault for causing third-degree burns on Witt and her 17-month-old son.

His trial began Tuesday, a month after Maloney changed his mind after offering to plead guilty as charged if the repeat violent offender specification were removed. If convicted, Maloney will be designated a repeat violent offender because he was previously convicted of voluntary manslaughter. The RVO specification can add up to 10 years to a prison sentence.

Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress said during opening statements 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 woke about 7:50 a.m. to “horrible burn all over her body and she doesn’t know who came into the house and did this to 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 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.

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 18 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, Burress said.

A search warrant obtained for an injury to Maloney’s finger showed a burn, Burress pointed out.

The defense told the jury that Maloney had been living with Witt until shortly before the incident. Peck pointed out prosecutors have 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 during opening statements. 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.

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.

Witt and the baby are continuing to recover from their injuries. She was sitting in the front row of the courtroom during opening statements.

The trial is scheduled to last four days.

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