The second anniversary of Willow Molina’s death may occur before her case is finally resolved.
Two-year-old Willow’s disappearance from her Hornbeck home was reported by her mother on May 5, 2016. Her body was found in a desolate part of Beauregard Parish on May 6. A coroner’s report concluded she had died on May 4, the day before she was reported missing.
Investigators have not revealed the coroner’s conclusion regarding the cause of Willow’s death. Nor have they indicated whether the toddler was alive or dead when left in the woods.
The glare of suspicion immediately fell on Willow’s baby sitter, Rodney D. Bailey, Jr., the last person publicly known to have been seen with the child.
In the 18 months since the disappearance both the mother, Vanessa Renteria-Molina, and Bailey have been charged with crimes, though neither has been charged with her death.
Mom pleaded guilty to possession of meth and got probation and a fine. She also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child desertion, with the sentence deferred.
Bailey, serving time on felony charges from a Beauregard Parish case, was supposed to go to trial this month on charges of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and obstruction of justice. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of 40 years each.
But, according to District Attorney Asa Skinner, that trial date has been continued. He said Bailey has changed lawyers and the new counsel has requested and been granted time to get up to speed on the case.
Rotations in the criminal docket in 30th Judicial District Court put judges on the criminal bench every three months. Judge Vernon Clark was scheduled to try the case this month. His division will not be back on the criminal side until March.
But Clark will not be there. He retires at the end of this month, turning the division bench over to Tony Bennett, elected in a special vote in October.
It’s possible, perhaps likely, that Bennett will not hear the case, though judicial propriety prevents Skinner from commenting on such matters.
Bennett is an assistant district attorney, on the prosecuting staff as Willow’s case developed. It’s not much of a stretch to anticipate a defense motion to keep him from hearing the matter, or a preemptory decision by Skinner to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to appoint a visiting judge.
That’s all speculation at this point, but within the realm of probability.