TEXARKANA, Ark. — A father facing a possible death sentence in the death of his 3-year-old daughter last year gave testimony about his financial situation at a hearing Tuesday in Miller County circuit court.
Everette John Cawley, 24, is charged with accomplice capital murder in the April 2, 2019, death of McKinley Cawley. While Everette Cawley is not accused of delivering the beating that ended his daughter's life, he is accused of failing to intervene as McKinley was allegedly fatally injured by his wife, McKenna Belcher, 27.
Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett has announced that her office will seek a death sentence for Belcher but has not said whether her office will seek death for Everette Cawley.
At a hearing Tuesday before Circuit Judge Brent Haltom, Everette Cawley answered questions from Gregg Parrish, Executive Director of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission and Barrett about his financial situation. Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson, who was previously appointed to represent Cawley by the commission, was on hand as well.
Earlier this year, the issue of Cawley's ability to pay for his own legal representation became an issue when it became clear that the disability payments he receives monthly do not come from federal social security as first assumed, but from the Veteran's Administration. Incarceration impacts the payment of disability benefits while it may not impact VA benefits in the same way.
Everette Cawley testified that at the time of McKinley's death, he was receiving $3,886 monthly in benefits which included consideration for a spouse and two children. While Cawley's benefits may be reduced by the VA in light of McKinley's death, Cawley is expected to continue receiving payments.
Haltom directed Harrelson to determine where the payments Cawley has been receiving while incarcerated are being held so that the court can place a freeze on the account while the case proceeds. Haltom said Cawley may be expected to contribute to the funding of his capital murder defense but that exactly in what amount will be determined at a later date when more information is available.
Parrish made it clear that Cawley is at least partially indigent and will not be able to fully fund his own defense to a charge of capital murder.
Cawley was initially charged by prosecutors last year with two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor relating to McKinley's death and to injuries found on his son. Cawley hired Texarkana lawyer Erroll Friedman to represent him on those charges before Barrett amended Cawley's charges to include capital murder.
Haltom said Friedman will continue to represent Cawley on the permitting child abuse charges while Harrelson will defend him against the capital murder charge.
Both Cawley and Belcher are being held in the Miller County jail.
McKinley died of blunt force injuries hours after her father ran through the emergency room doors of a Texarkana hospital at about 4:30 a.m. April 2, 2019, 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 child's dire medical condition and contacted police.
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. McKinley's head had been shaved before she was brought to the hospital and clumps of hair were found in the couple's duplex and McKinley's underwear. Investigators concluded that McKinley's head was shaved to conceal that clumps of her hair had been yanked from her head.
External injuries similar to those seen on McKinley also were found on her 2-year-old brother's face, torso and legs, which doctors hypothesized were caused by a "blunt type instrument/ object" and are described as bruising all along his face and limbs.
If found guilty of capital murder, Belcher and Cawley face life without parole or death by lethal injection.