Arkansas woman, 29, who beat husband’s daughter, 3, to death and severely injured stepson, 2, takes murder plea and is sent away for life – Children’s father charged as accomplice
Woman who beat husband’s daughter takes murder plea Father will face charges as an alleged accomplice
McKenna Faith Belcher who beat her husband’s 3-year-old daughter to death using steel-toed boots and a wooden bed slat in 2019
McKenna Faith Belcher, 29, avoided a possible death sentence with her plea of guilty to first-degree murder Belcher, 29, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole as part of a plea agreement in Miller County circuit court
McKinley was flown via helicopter from a Texarkana emergency room to a hospital in Little Rock the morning of April 2, 2019
The little girl was found to have suffered bruising all over her small body as well as severe internal and head injuries from which she would die later the same day
McKinley’s father Everette Cawley is facing related criminal charges – two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor involving McKinley and her brother and a count of accomplice capital murder
Evil stepmom McKenna Faith Belcher, avoided a possible death sentence in Arkansas Tuesday with her plea of guilty to first-degree murder though she will spend the remainder of her days in an Arkansas prison for taking the life of her husband’s young daughter.
McKenna Belcher, 29, reortedly, beat her husband’s 3-year-old daughter, McKinley Cawley, to death using steel-toed boots and a wooden bed slat in 2019.
She was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison as part of a plea agreement in a Miller County circuit court.
“It just doesn’t seem fair that McKinley gets death and McKenna Belcher gets life,” the victim’s grandmother said as she addressed the court Tuesday morning.
“What could a 3-year-old little girl have done to deserve this? It breaks my heart knowing what was done to her but the nightmares I have are nothing compared to the nightmare McKinley lived.”
McKenna Faith Belcher was facing death by lethal injection or life without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder in the death of her stepdaughter, the most serious crime listed in Arkansas’ criminal code.
She was also facing a charge of domestic battery in connection with injuries she allegedly inflicted on her 2-year-old stepson.
Belcher’s plea to first-degree murder spared her a possible death sentence in the case.
Prosecutors in Miller and Lafayette Counties also filed formal charges against the children’s father, Everette Cawley, 26.
He faces two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor.
McKenna Belcher appeared at the hearing before Circuit Judge Wren Autrey with Andrea Stokes and Jeffrey Chandler, both of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission.
As Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Connie Mitchell provided the court with a factual basis for Belcher’s plea for the official record, members of McKinley’s family, court staff and a Miller County correctional officer wiped at their eyes.
Mitchell recounted that McKinley was flown via helicopter from a Texarkana emergency room to a hospital in Little Rock the morning of April 2, 2019. Mitchell noted that McKinley was found to have suffered bruising all over her small body as well as severe internal and head injuries from which she would die later the same day.
McKinley’s aunt and great grandmother described seeing McKinley motionless in a hospital bed with tubes and machines keeping her alive for a short while.
“She had a laugh, a laugh that went to the biggest smile on anyone’s face,” McKinley’s aunt said. “I wish that when I dream of her I was surrounded by that laugh instead of touching that lifeless little hand.”
McKinley’s grandmother lamented that the “vibrant, joyful, little 3-year-old” who was mercilessly beaten to death would never have the “firsts” in life that benchmark a human lifespan, such as the first day of school.
“She was more than a victim. She was a little girl. A human being,” the grandmother said.
McKinley’s grandmother referred to a necklace she wears to feel a connection to McKinley.
“We should get to hug her but instead we’re left with tiny vials of her ashes,” the grandmother said.
As the hearing wound to a close, Autrey looked from the judge’s bench to the grief stricken faces of McKinley’s family.
“There’s nothing I can say that will make this any better,” Autrey said.
Mitchell said that, as part of Belcher’s plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop a charge related to child abuse injuries found on McKinley’s younger brother.
“I am pleased we were able to resolve this matter with the family’s support. With the defendant’s plea, there is no appeal. McKinley’s family can begin the healing process and mourn the loss of their daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter,” Mitchell said.
“In Arkansas, with a sentence of life in prison, there is no parole without an act of the governor. With the circumstances surrounding the death of McKinley, I cannot envision any circumstances under which a governor would commute her sentence to a term of years.”
McKinley’s father, Everette Cawley, is facing criminal charges in Miller County as well. Pending against him are two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor involving McKinley and her brother and a count of accomplice capital murder.
Belcher it was reported, threw, kicked, stomped and beat McKinley in the days and hours before her death, while the child’s father Everette Cawley allegedly failed to protect her.
McKinley’s head had been shaved before she was brought to the hospital and clumps of hair were found in the couple’s Texarkana, Arkansas, duplex and in McKinley’s underwear. Investigators with the Texarkana Arkansas Police Department concluded that McKinley’s head was shaved to conceal that clumps of her hair had been yanked from her scalp.
External injuries similar to those seen on McKinley 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 convicted, Cawley faces five to 20 years on each of the permitting abuse charges and death or life without parole on the charge of accomplice capital murder.
He is scheduled to appear in June for a pretrial hearing.
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