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Grand jury returns indictments in child abuse case

MURRAY – As expected, the Calloway County grand jury indicted a Murray couple Friday on murder and first-degree criminal abuse charges in the horrifying death of a toddler last month.

On Oct. 23, Chyanne Niemeyer, 24, and Nathaniel Gibson, 20, brought Niemeyer’s 17-month-old daughter to the emergency room at Murray-Calloway County Hospital. She had suffered severe burns on the majority of her body and was unresponsive. Considering the injuries suspicious, hospital staff notified the Murray Police Department. Shortly after MPD Detective Justin Swope arrived, the girl succumbed to her injuries. Niemeyer and Gibson were arrested later that evening and charged with murder and first-degree criminal abuse.

The couple pleaded not guilty at their respective arraignments in Calloway District Court the following day, and Judge Randall Hutchens set a $500,000 cash bond for each defendant. On Nov. 1, both waived their rights to a preliminary hearing, advancing their cases to the grand jury. Yesterday, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office presented its case, and the grand jury returned indictments reaffirming the initial charges.

According to the uniform citation, Niemeyer and Gibson told Swope that the burns resulted from “scalding” hot bathwater. Both claimed they attempted to get the toddler out of the water but could not because of the temperature, but Swope noted in his report that neither Niemeyer nor Gibson had any redness on their hands or arms.

When it became evident to Niemeyer that her daughter’s skin was being profoundly damaged, she removed the girl from the tub and treated her wounds by applying BENGAY, which is an ointment designed to provide relief for muscle and joint pain, backaches and minor arthritis pain that, according to package instructions, should not be applied to damaged skin. Swope’s report also noted “strong medicine odor” coming from the child.

The couple told Swope they discussed whether the injuries warranted medical treatment but decided to wait and see how the child fared. They put her down for a nap, and when Gibson checked on her one-and-a-half to two hours later, she was unresponsive. At that point, nearly six hours after the injuries occurred, Niemeyer and Gibson took the toddler to the emergency room.

In addition to the burns, Swope observed several bruises on the girl’s buttocks, lower back, forehead and face. When asked about the bruises, Niemeyer allegedly admitted to “snapping” and striking her daughter in the bruised areas when the child would scratch or bite.

Per the indictments, the grand jury based the criminal abuse charges on incidents going back to Oct. 9. The documents give few details but both state the respective defendants “intentionally abused (the child) and thereby caused cruel confinement or cruel punishment.”

When asked to elaborate on the events that occurred over the two weeks leading up to the girl’s death during a brief interview Friday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust said Oct. 9 is, “a place where we believe it will be shown that criminal abuse started.”

On Nov. 7, a hearing was held in Niemeyer’s case on two motions filed by her attorney Cheri Riedel, directing attorney for the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy Murray Trial Office, regarding evidence in the case, both what would be presented to the grand jury as well as what had been collected by MPD in its investigation.

In a request to collect and preserve additional evidence, Riedel argued there was no indication in the state’s incident-based reporting system that MPD inspected or otherwise tested the water heater or the faucet in the apartment where the incident occurred and noted that the proper functioning of those devices at the time of the incident “bears on the culpability of the defendants.” By not collecting the water heater and faucet, the property owner is free to repair, alter or replace them, thereby destroying potentially exculpatory evidence.

The second motion was a request to present evidence to the grand jury, including documentation of unsafe conditions and code violations in Niemeyer’s apartment as well as a 2011 psychological evaluation detailing Niemeyer’s “extremely low intellectual and adaptive functioning.” It further requested that the jury be informed of its subpoena power as well as the legal definitions of “the full range of possible lesser offenses.”

At the time of filing said motions, the case had already advanced from district court to the grand jury, but without an indictment, the case was not yet under the purview of the circuit court. As such, Calloway Circuit Judge Andrea Moore advised the parties that she did not believe she had jurisdiction over the case and, therefore, could not rule on the motions.

While there was no resolution regarding the motion to preserve evidence, Foust advised the court that his office would honor the defense’s request to present evidence to the grand jury.

Riedel submitted the defense’s evidence Thursday; however, because defense attorneys cannot participate in grand jury proceedings, she will not know whether it was considered by the grand jury until the discovery phase, which is the formal process through which the parties exchange information regarding witnesses and evidence that could be presented at trial. At that point, defense attorneys will have access to video footage of the grand jury proceedings. In a text Friday afternoon, Reidel said she is “anxious to see the discovery and continue our investigation.”

Niemeyer and Gibson will be arraigned in Calloway Circuit Court at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 4.

Individuals charged with crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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