Prosecutor will seek death penalty for stepmom accused in 3-year-old’s death

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Prosecutors in Miller County 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 with Andrea Stokes and Adam Chandler of the Arkansas Public Defenders Commission for arraignment Tuesday afternoon at the Miller County jail courtroom in Texarkana, Ark. Stokes entered a not guilty plea on Belcher’s behalf to capital murder in the death of McKinley Cawley and to second-degree domestic battery for allegedly abusing McKinley’s 2-year-old brother.

Miller County Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett said her office will seek the death penalty for Belcher. The only other punishment option for capital murder is life without parole. If found guilty of second-degree battery, Belcher faces three to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

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Belcher’s husband, Everette John Cawley, 23, pleaded not guilty to two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor at a hearing June 11 before Circuit Judge Brent Haltom. One of the counts facing Everette Cawley is connected to McKinley’s death and the other relates to injuries allegedly found on his son. The charge relating to the death of his daughter is punishable by five to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $15,000. The charge connected to injuries allegedly found on his son, Everette Cawley faces up to six years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Everette Cawley is accused of knowing that his wife was abusing the children and failing to intervene to protect them.

Everette Cawley brought McKinley to a local emergency room at about 4:30 a.m. April 2, according to a probable cause affidavit. Hospital staff immediately suspected child abuse caused the severe blunt force injuries noted on the child and contacted police.

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 being held in the Miller County jail without bond. Cawley’s bail is set at $1 million. Both remain in custody.

Johnson set a trial date of Oct. 28 for Belcher. Cawley’s case is set for jury selection before Haltom on Aug. 26.

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