CLARKSVILLE — Cynthia Weigleb told detectives she lost her temper when her 3-month-old daughter wouldn't stop crying in their New Albany home Dec. 19, 2010.
The 18-year-old mother was emotional as she used a doll to show detectives exactly how she grabbed the infant, jerked her leg from the sleeper and shook her. Afterward, Weigleb noticed that her daughter would scream as if she was in pain every time she picked her up.
She called a relative to come pick up the child, saying she "could not take it any longer."
Three days later, the child was taken to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville where doctors discovered she had four fractured ribs and two fractures in her left leg. Family members couldn't explain what happened, but doctors highly suspected child abuse.
What nobody knew then was it wouldn't be the last time or the last child Weigleb would be suspected of abusing. At 24 years old, Weigleb is now incarcerated at the Clark County jail on charges that she played a part in the death of her second child, Alexis Arensman.
Alexis died from battered child syndrome Feb. 22, 2015, less than five years after Weigleb confessed to battering her sister. Alexis' sister also was battered and seriously injured — for the second time — on or around the day Alexis died.
Weigleb and her then-boyfriend, 27-year-old Joseph Manske, are each charged with one count of neglect of a child resulting in death and one count of neglect of a child resulting in serious injury. They await trial in Clark County.
Hundreds of pages of criminal records and child welfare reports obtained by the News and Tribune start in 2010 and reveal a series of abuse allegations and concerns leading up to Alexis' death.
Prosecutors from Floyd and Clark counties say Alexis and her sister shouldn't have been in Weigleb's custody, and one says the system failed the two girls.
After Weigleb confessed to battering her first-born, she was charged with a class B felony count of battery causing serious injury to a child in Floyd County Circuit Court. Her daughter was put in the custody of the Indiana Department of Child Services and placed in foster care.
Floyd County Deputy Prosecutor Steven Owen was assigned to the court where Weigleb would be sentenced.
"We had very suspicious injuries that were indicative of abuse and Ms. Weigleb basically admitted that she did it," Owen said. "So what we basically did was, we were seeking jail time."
On April 21, 2011, Weigleb's bond was reduced and a few days later, she was released from jail. After looking through his notes on the case, Owen said he remembers Weigleb was newly pregnant during the criminal proceedings, and thinks the bond reduction had something to do with the pregnancy.
Weigleb gave birth to Alexis Arensman on Sept. 1, 2011. In June 2012, she pleaded guilty to battering her first child.
Owen said Weigleb entered a blind plea, meaning there was no agreement as to what kind of sentence she would serve. Whether or not she would get jail time was up to the judge.
Ultimately, Judge Terrence Cody sentenced Weigleb to eight years, with six of those years to be served on probation. With credit for time served, Weigleb would be released by January 2013. She also was ordered to take parenting classes and receive counseling.
Owen said he had hoped for a six to 10-year sentence.
"We were looking for executed jail time at the [Indiana] Department of Correction given the nature of the case and the injuries," he said. "We thought that this kind of action against a child raises our suspicions of the possibility of there being future problems."
ALEXIS IN FOSTER CARE
Between about December 2011 and May 2012 — while the criminal case continued in Floyd County — Alexis was staying with Weigleb's family in New Albany while her older sister remained in foster care. Records given to the News and Tribune by DCS — which include contact logs, assessments and case plans — don't begin until May 2012.
One of the first recorded contacts with DCS was May 25, 2012, when the state agency began investigating claims that Weigleb left Alexis in the care of someone with a known history of sexually assaulting a child. A family case manager visited the home four days later, but Weigleb and the caretaker in question were not home.
A search of Kentucky and Indiana online court records did not turn up charges against the caretaker, but a DCS report mentions a "substantiated" DCS assessment regarding the sexual assault allegations. On May 30, 2012, the caretaker took Alexis to a DCS office to meet with the family case manager and New Albany police.
The caretaker was asked to not comment on the sexual assault allegations and was informed that Alexis would be placed with the same foster family her sister was living with. When Alexis was taken into DCS custody, she was observed "to have several burn injuries to her arm," which appeared to be from a cigarette. The caretaker claimed the burns were accidental.
Weigleb was not present during the exchange.
Two months later, Weigleb told the family case manager that she was "always afraid for Alexis with [the caretaker], but felt like it was her best option right now."
In July 2012, Weigleb and her daughters' father, Richard Arensman Jr., visited with both children at a DCS office. According to a New Albany police report, Arensman and Weigleb were arguing when they arrived. Arensman was reportedly "very verbally abusive" and throwing things around.
When the DCS worker asked Arensman to leave, he allegedly slammed the door shut "which struck [Alexis' sister], knocking her to the ground."
Arensman was arrested that day and charged with disorderly conduct.
A month later, Weigleb was arrested for failing to appear for a presentencing investigation related to the child battery charge. DCS contact logs show that the children visited Weigleb several times while she was in the Floyd County jail. On one occasion, Weigleb was described as being "very playful with the girls."
While the children were in foster care, DCS workers visited the foster home regularly and described the children as being safe and stable. A termination of parental rights was filed regarding the oldest child, but for Alexis, "reunification" remained to be the goal.
In November 2012, Weigleb was sentenced in Floyd County Circuit Court and by January 2013 she was released from jail on probation. The first unsupervised visit Weigleb had with both children was Feb. 28.
Due to a reported domestic violence incident between Weigleb and Arensman that day, a family case manager determined Weigleb's home was "unstable."
In May, the family case manager again noted that the foster home was a stable environment, "however visitations with [Weigleb] have appeared to create a sense of instability in the children's behavior." Regular visits continued with reunification still being the goal.
In September 2013, the family case manager noted that Weigleb had a new job preparing food for daycares, had obtained an ID, found a home she could afford and was shopping for bedding for the kids. The DCS worker then visited the Jeffersonville home where Weigleb was living with a relative and where the girls had been visiting.
The home appeared to be "very clean and well cared for" and rules were posted throughout the home, according to DCS records. Kids played outside, riding on bikes, while Alexis played with a Doc McStuffins pillow toy. By the end of the visit, the family case manager noted that Weigleb was providing "a safe home free from abuse and neglect."
On Nov. 22, 2013, Judge Terrence Cody granted an order dismissing the DCS case, giving Weigleb custody of both children and discontinuing DCS intervention.
MORE ALLEGATIONS, 'CONCERNS'
It is not until October 2014 that DCS became involved with Weigleb and her children again, according to DCS records. The agency received a report alleging Alexis had been seen with two bruises on her face. When a family case manager visited the home, Weigleb said Alexis had gotten upset and "banged her face on the floor."
Alexis, then 3 years old, did not answer when the DCS worker asked her what happened. The worker talked to Weigleb about what she could do if Alexis tried to bang her head on the floor again, like putting a pillow under her head or removing her from the situation.
Ultimately, the DCS worker found "no concerns" that what was reported to the agency was true and found "no safety issues" in the home.
Then on Nov. 20, 2014, DCS received a report that "Alexis was observed with six bruises on her torso going down to her lower abdomen."
The next day, a DCS worker visited the family's Jeffersonville home. The worker noted that the children in the home appeared healthy and that there were no safety issues related to the home environment. The worker said "some bruises on Alexis appeared a little old."
Weigleb denied allegations that she had abused Alexis and said that Alexis had a habit of throwing tantrums and banging her head on the floor. Other adults living in the home corroborated Weigleb's claims and added that Alexis played rough and wrestled with two young boys who lived in the home.
"Although there are some concerns as to how Alexis received the bruises, there is no evidence of abuse or life-endangering neglect at this time. No further action taken," the report's conclusion statement reads.
Michelle Kalogeros, a communications coordinator for the Indiana DCS and former DCS field worker, said she could not comment on what "concerns" meant in Alexis' case, but she explained that a case worker can only report the evidence that is in front of him or her. In order for a claim to be considered "substantiated" — which is determined by a supervisor — there must be a "preponderance of evidence" supporting the reported allegations.
"That's the tricky part. You can have a feeling as a case manager that something doesn't quite feel right ... but without proof to show that he or she's lying — you know, we can't create the evidence," Kalogeros said. "So that is frustrating, that is when your hands feel tied."
Around 10:35 a.m. Feb. 22, 2015, Clarksville police responded to reports of an unresponsive child at a home on Ridgeview Drive. When one officer arrived, he watched as a firefighter carried Alexis in his arms. Her body was limp and there were red markings around her mouth, according to the police report.
Alexis was taken to Clark Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Weigleb and Manske said Alexis had been awake until about 5 a.m. that day. She was "throwing a fit," so they gave her 5 milliliters of ibuprofen. On the floor of the bedroom where several children slept, police saw a blood-stained pillow where Alexis was laying.
Alexis' death was later ruled a homicide caused by battered child syndrome. The final report listed 17 injuries — including cigarette burns and multiple scalp impact sites — and determined that asphyxia by smothering could not be ruled out as a contributing factor of death.
Following Alexis' death, Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said he pored over thousands of pages of records. It took him nearly nine months to press charges in the case.
Weigleb and Manske aren't charged with murder because Mull said he didn't feel he had enough evidence to guarantee they would be convicted.
If convicted of both neglect charges, Weigleb and Manske could each face 56 years in prison. Whether or not past allegations of abuse will play into Mull's case will be decided by the judge.
"There are Indiana rules of evidence that essentially gives the judge some leeway on this matter, but there are some cases from the Indiana Supreme Court that limit that subject matter," Mull said.
Mull said he would need to be privy to more information before deciding whether DCS did everything it should have done for Alexis and her sister. But, he said, the children should not have been in Weigleb's care.
He noted that Indiana courts have a strong presumption toward reunification and that some DCS workers feel compelled to abide by the court's instructions, even if they don't agree with them.
"Alexis would still be alive and [her sister] would not have sustained those injuries if they had not been in that situation," Mull said. "And I think there had been other alternative living arrangements for those children where they were safe and secure that would have been a better place for them."
Owen, the Floyd County deputy prosecutor from the 2011 case, remembers what he thought when her heard about Alexis' death.
"[I thought] that it was something that I think the system should have seen coming." he said. "[Weigleb] just pleaded guilty to abusing her one child and I don't know what went through with regards to her getting children back, but certainly at some point and time somebody gave their children back to her and put these kids in a situation that obviously turned into to be a dangerous situation for them."
In an interview earlier this week, DCS Deputy Director of Communications James Wide said that when looking back through a history of abuse in any case, hindsight is 20/20.
"You have to keep it in perspective," Wide said. "What did workers have right then at their disposal at that moment, what did they see? Not looking at it [like] 'now I know the complete picture and I can look at the book backwards.' That's really not fair to the person who's doing the assessment."
Wide was not available Friday for a follow-up interview.
Weigleb and Manske are scheduled for trial in August. Manske's co-counsel, Mickey Weber, said he could not speak to what Manske has said about how Alexis died. He said Weigleb's past battery conviction will likely be pertinent to the case.
Weigleb's attorney could not be reached for comment.