TEXARKANA, Ark. — Trial in a death-penalty case involving a woman accused of fatally beating her husband's 3-year-old daughter last year has been postponed.
McKenna Faith Belcher, 27, is charged with capital murder in the April 2019 death of McKinley Cawley. The case was scheduled for jury selection later this month before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson.
Last week, Belcher's defense team filed a motion seeking a continuance in the case. The motion notes that the defense has just recently received thousands of pages of documents and two videos from the state, which it needs time to review. The motion further argues that reports on testing from physical evidence haven't been received by the state or defense and that the defense needs more time to conduct a "mitigation investigation" in advance of trial.
In a death-penalty case, the defense is obliged to conduct an in-depth investigation into the accused's past. The goal is to find evidence that might lead a jury to choose a sentence of life without parole rather than death by lethal injection in the event of a conviction.
Johnson scheduled Belcher's case for a status hearing next month. A firm date for jury selection has not been rescheduled.
Belcher was arrested the same day McKinley died of blunt-force injuries in a Little Rock hospital. McKinley's father, Everette Cawley, 23, has been charged with being an accomplice to capital murder for allegedly failing to intervene while Belcher allegedly physically abused the girl in the couple's duplex in the 3800 block of Linden Avenue in Texarkana, Arkansas.
When medical personnel in a local emergency room first treated McKinley, child abuse was immediately suspected, according to a probable cause affidavit. The young girl's head had been shaved, presumably to conceal that locks of hair had been ripped from her head, and she was unresponsive, according to records. McKinley died hours later.
The couple is also facing charges in connection with injuries found on McKinley's younger brother. An infant born to the couple in January 2019 was found to be in need of medical attention as well and was taken into state custody April 2, 2019, the day McKinley died.
Cawley is facing the same possible punishment as Belcher if found guilty of being an accomplice to capital murder. At a hearing last month Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett declined to say whether the state will seek a death sentence for him. Barrett announced last year that her office will seek the death for Belcher.
Both Belcher and Cawley are being held in the Miller County jail.