Judge issues gag order in Miller County capital murder case

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A Miller County circuit judge granted a defense request Tuesday for a gag order in the case of woman accused of capital murder in the death of her husband’s 3-year-old daughter.

McKenna Belcher, 26, appeared with Little Rock lawyer Andrea Stokes before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson on Tuesday morning. Belcher is accused of killing McKinley Cawley and injuring the dead girl’s younger brother earlier this year. Belcher lived with the children and their father, Everette Cawley, in a home in Texarkana, Ark.

The state is seeking the death penalty for Belcher in McKinley’s death.

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Johnson addressed a motion Tuesday filed by the defense seeking to limit pretrial publicity in the case. Johnson granted the gag order which prevents members of law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office or the defense from commenting on the case publicly.

Johnson granted defense motions concerning the preservation of evidence and to allow Belcher to dress in civilian clothing during her trial.

Johnson denied motions by the defense seeking to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional or to have Arkansas murder statutes deemed unconstitutional.

Belcher is being held in the Miller County jail without bail. She was arrested in April after Cawley ran into a local emergency room carrying his unresponsive daughter. Medical staff quickly concluded the girl was a victim of abuse. Texarkana, Texas, police who responded at the hospital handed the case over to Texarkana, Ark., investigators because Cawley and Belcher lived in Texarkana, Ark., with McKinley, her younger brother and a girl Belcher gave birth to Jan. 30.

Everette Cawley allegedly told investigators that McKenna Cawley kicked and beat McKinley with a wooden slat from a bed. Investigators seized a pair of steel toe boots belonging to McKenna Cawley and noted there were clumps of hair discovered in the couple’s Texarkana, Ark., duplex when it was searched and clumps of hair were found in McKinley’s underwear.

McKinley’s head had been shaved when she arrived at the hospital and investigators theorized this was done to hide that clumps of her hair had been ripped from her head.

Belcher is facing a charge of second-degree domestic battery for allegedly abusing Cawley’s son. That offense is punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Everette Cawley is charged with two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor. He is being held in the Miller County jail with bail set at $1 million.

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