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Stepmom pleads not guilty in 3-year-old's death | Prosecuting attorney will seek death penalty

Stepmom pleads not guilty in 3-year-old's death | Prosecuting attorney will seek death penalty

June 25th, 2019 by Lynn LaRowe in Texarkana News

McKenna Belcher, 27, appears Friday morning before District Judge Wren Autrey, not pictured. Belcher is accused of capital murder in the death of her 3-year-old stepdaughter. Belcher also faces a charge of second-degree domestic battery involving her 2-year-old stepson.

Photo by Hunt Mercier /Texarkana Gazette.

Miller County Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett said Tuesday that her office will seek the death penalty for a stepmother accused of capital murder in the death of her husband's 3-year-old daughter.

McKenna Faith Belcher, 26, appeared before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson for arraignment with Adam Chandler and Andrea Stokes of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission at the Miller County jail courtroom Tuesday afternoon. Stokes entered pleas of not guilty to charges of capital murder and second-degree domestic battery on Belcher's behalf. Belcher's domestic battery charge involves her alleged abuse of Cawley's 2-year-old son.

Johnson asked the defense lawyers if they could be ready for trial July 29. Stokes and Chandler said they have recently received discovery, or copies of the state's evidence, and need more time to prepare for trial. Johnson scheduled the case for a status hearing in August and set an October trial date.

Belcher's husband, Everette Cawley, 23, pleaded not guilty earlier this month at a hearing before Circuit Judge Brent Haltom to two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor involving McKinley and her 2-year-old brother. Cawley's case is scheduled for jury selection before Haltom in late August.

Husband and wife were arrested in April after Cawley's daughter, McKinley Cawley died, allegedly from physical injuries caused by Belcher. McKinley died of blunt force injuries hours after her father ran through the emergency room doors of a Texarkana hospital carrying her unconscious body. The gravely injured child was airlifted from CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System to Children's Medical Center in Little Rock where she died less than 12 hours later.

Hospital staff immediately suspected abuse was to blame for the youngster's dire medical condition and contacted police when she was brought for treatment at about 4:30 a.m. April 2. McKinley's suffering included a traumatic brain injury and "excessive bruising to the face and torso which is far beyond any over-active child and patterned to suggest use of a rigid object," the affidavit states. Belcher allegedly threw, kicked, stomped and beat McKinley in the days and hours before her death while Cawley allegedly failed to protect her, according to authorities.

External injuries similar to those seen on McKinley were found on the 2-yea-old boy's face, torso and legs, which doctors hypothesized they were caused by a "blunt type instrument/object" and are described as bruising all along his face and limbs. A search warrant affidavit identifies an attempt by Texarkana, Ark., police investigators to recover a wooden bed slat allegedly used to strike the girl.

Belcher and Cawley allegedly confessed.

The couple's infant, born Jan. 30, was in need of medical attention as well. The girl had a severe yeast infection "under her neck skin fold," which was bleeding at the time she was taken into state custody.

Cawley faces five to 20 years if found guilty of permitting the abuse of a minor resulting in death as he is charged in connection with McKinley. If found guilty of permitting the abuse of his son, Cawley faces up to six years in prison. Belcher faces five to 20 years in prison if found guilty of second-degree domestic battery involving her stepson. If convicted of capital murder, Belcher faces life without parole or death by lethal injection.

Belcher is being held without bail. Cawley's bail is set at $1 million. Both are being held in the Miller County jail.

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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