October 31, 2017
Most 13-year-old boys wake up on Halloween knowing today’s the day that they’re going to load up on candy.
That’s not how Tuesday morning went for Hassan Cox, though.
Trick-or-treating was not on his mind.
Instead, he was getting ready to take the stand in a Philadelphia courtroom to relive the toughest moments of his life.
And later, he testified for about 15 minutes in Courtroom 907 of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center in the trial of a man by the name of Paul Woodlyn.
Just after 3 p.m. on November 18, 2016, Woodlyn was driving his girlfriend Jasmine Glover’s 2012 Nissan Altima south on 63rd Street in West Philadelphia.
At the same time, Hassan, his younger brother Jayquan and sisters Hadiyah and Jayanna were crossing at the Lansdowne Avenue intersection – on their way to catch the bus after a day of learning at Lewis C. Cassidy elementary school.
As they crossed, Woodlyn’s vehicle struck Jayanna – who was holding Hassan’s hand – with such force that she’d fly 100 feet through the air.
The impact dislocated her spine from the base of her skull, tore her aorta and lacerated her liver. Her femur, shattered, broke through the skin.
"She hit the front of the car and flew. I dropped my stuff and ran to her.” – Hassan Cox, 13, brother of hit-and-run victim
She was lifeless next to a tree when emergency medical technician William Logan arrived on the scene. He would revive Jayanna as they sped toward the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but that was a mirage.
Doctors would declare the second grader dead about two hours after the crash from which Woodlyn admittedly fled.
These were the things that Hassan thought about when he woke up, grasped the memorial pendant and told his mother Ayeshia Poole that he would take the stand to protect his late sister.
“I’m 13. I’m her brother,” he said under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Erica Rebstock.
Wearing a black button-up shirt and jeans, Hassan rocked back and forth in his seat at the witness stand. He answered all questions in his regular soft-spoken tone.
“Hadiyah was behind Jayanna. She yelled, ‘Jayanna, no!” he recalled. “I pushed my little brother out of the way. The car was light gray or silver. When it hit my right knee, I let go (of her hand). She hit the front of the car and flew. I dropped my stuff and ran to her.”
“No,” he replied, when asked if the vehicle stopped to help.
Under delicate cross-examination from Woodlyn’s defense attorney, Benjamin Cooper, Hassan said none of the siblings were running prior to Jayanna getting hit. He responded that he wasn’t pulling Jayanna in the crosswalk to catch the bus that had passed by, as well.
In those 15 minutes or so, the testimony he’d been nervously anticipating for nearly a year was over.
The case against Woodlyn, however, was just getting started.
Woodlyn was arrested eight days after young Jayanna's death. Though he fled the scene, a tip led investigators to a Chester County auto body shop where he’d taken the vehicle.
The 25-year-old, who lived near the scene, was charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and fleeing the scene of an accident.
On Tuesday, he entered a packed courtroom to face those charges.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a homicide case,” said Municipal Court Judge J. Scott O’Keefe. “No outbursts. No noises of any kind. No pointing.”
The jury – including alternates, there are 10 women and four men on the panel – entered the room around 10 a.m.
Woodlyn stood and, when asked how he wished to plead, unexpectedly responded, “Guilty.”
“He knew that he struck a little girl and fled the scene.” – Assistant District Attorney Erica Rebstock
O’Keefe immediately cleared the jury from the room and took the attorneys to his chambers for a meeting.
The defendant apparently misunderstood the question: He didn’t mean to plead guilty to all charges, just the one that had him leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
With the jury still out of the room, that guilty plea was accepted. When sentencing comes, he’s facing a maximum of 10 years in prison and $25,000 fine.
“He knew that he struck a little girl and fled the scene,” is how Rebstock described it.
Just after 10:30 a.m., she and Cooper would present opening arguments to the jury.
“He plowed into that group of children,” Rebstock said, noting that Jayanna’s shoes and book bag were flung off her body. “As she lay there, her brothers, her sister, strangers were screaming in horror. … (Woodlyn) left her like road kill in the middle of the street.”
She told the jury that Woodlyn and Glover took off from the city and went to West Chester, where they encountered a tow-truck driver in a Wawa parking lot. That driver guided them to the body shop where the vehicle would ultimately be found.
“That’s how much he cared that he hit and killed a child,” Rebstock said. “’I hit a deer.’ That’s what he said.”
Anticipating that the defense would argue the children were crossing a busy street despite having a red light – though Hassan said it was green – she maintained that “a license to drive isn’t a license to kill.”
When she mentioned the gruesome nature of the injuries Jayanna suffered, Ayeshia rushed out of the courtroom with tears streaming down her face.
Sensing the emotional tenor of the room, Cooper started his opening arguments by telling the jury, “I know you’re angry right now. I can see it in your faces, and I understand that. He left the scene. But, your job here is to decide what happened (that day).”
Noting that it’s “a horrible set of circumstances,” Cooper noted that the children “did not have the green light, (Woodlyn) had the green light.” He argued that Jayanna and her siblings were running across the street and that Woodlyn had to drive around a vehicle that stopped in front of him.
“It’s a horrible case. It’s a horrible tragedy. ... Unfortunately, in life, (accidents) happen.” – Benjamin Cooper, defense attorney
“He didn’t see (them) until it was too late to stop,” he said. “It’s a horrible case. It’s a horrible tragedy. No one wants to talk about this, but we have to. Unfortunately, in life, (accidents) happen.”
It was then time for Hassan to take the stand.
He was followed by Deputy Medical Examiner Albert Chu, who clinically spoke about the autopsy report and the injuries Jayanna sustained that are acutely fatal.
Next up was William Logan, the EMT who shared recollections from the scene and the ride to CHOP.
The morning session ended with testimony from William "Ken" Page, the tow-truck driver who encountered Woodlyn in West Chester later that same night.
At 11:59 a.m., the trial broke for a 75-minute lunch break, but already, the emotional impact was evident.
Jayanna’s father, James Powell, spoke in the hallway about how difficult it was to hear such gruesome details.
Her mother Ayeshia seemed shellshocked. She said this was the first time that she’d heard the defense claim her kids were crossing when they shouldn’t have.
“This has been one of the hardest days in my life, but I’m so proud of Hassan,” she said. “He said he had to get up there for his sister, since he’s her protector, and he did it.”