May 21, 2024

Judge to allow canine expert’s testimony during Wright trial

Jasper County District Court Judge Richard Clogg granted a request from the defense of Jena M. Wright, of Prairie City, allowing an expert witness on canine behavior to testify in the 26-year-old’s upcoming trial.

Wright is accused of leaving 4-year-old Jordyn Arndt unattended with an American Staffordshire terrier at 300 S. Marshall St. in Prairie City April 22, 2013. According to the initial police report, Wright was babysitting Arndt at the time of the animal attack which caused injuries ultimately resulting in the child’s death.

During a hearing Monday, the court decided to allot $18,000 retaining Ron Berman — a California-based certified forensics consultant with expertise in canine temperament, bites and behavior. Wright’s attorney T.J. Hier addressed the court stating, in her research, Berman was one of four expert witnesses on canine behavior in the U.S. found to have the credentials to testify in Wright’s defense. During her statement, Hier argued the main issue in the case is whether or not Wright exposed the 4-year-old to the dog knowing the animal could become aggressive.

“The state must prove that my client had knowledge that the dog involved in this case had a propensity to be vicious or attack a human being,” she said. “Mr. Berman can speak to that issue.”

The state will call two expert witnesses during the course of the trial — the physician who treated Arndt and the medical examiner. Assistant county attorney Kelly Bennett argued on behalf of the state Monday, challenging the relevance of the canine behavioral expert’s testimony. But Judge Clogg was of the opinion that allowing the expert to testify on behalf of Wright would insure a fair trial. Wright was not present in the courtroom for the hearing.

The defendant could potentially see up to 25 years in prison if convicted of child endangerment resulting in death, a Class B felony, and up to 10 years for a conviction of neglect or abandonment, a Class C felony.

Wright is also facing charges of assault on a peace officer causing bodily injury and interference with official acts in this case. Wright allegedly kicked the arresting officer — former Prairie City Police Chief Louis Modlin — in the chest during a struggle at 601 S. Norris St. in Prairie City.

If the case stays on schedule, the trial will begin with jury selection 9:30 a.m. Jan. 14 in Jasper County District Court.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at