Stepmom accused in 3-year-old’s death appears in court

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A stepmother accused of capital murder in the April death of her husband’s 3-year-old daughter was in court Monday for a pretrial hearing.

The state is seeking a death sentence for McKenna Faith Belcher, 26. Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson addressed motions filed by the defense concerning experts and digital evidence.

Belcher’s lawyer, Andrea Stokes of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission, filed a motion seeking to have communications between Belcher’s defense team and experts assisting in building her defense declared privileged and not subject to rules that require both sides to share evidence. Stokes said she isn’t asking for privilege to include experts the defense expects to call as witnesses at Belcher’s trial or reports, such as a psychological evaluation, created by defense experts.

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Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett said she believes the identities of experts and their reports must be shared with the state. Stokes said she would give reports or the names of potential expert witnesses to the state.

Stokes also said that if the defense intends to raise the issue of Belcher’s competency or pursue a defense based on mental illness or intellectual deficiency she would give the state notice in a timely manner. If the defense raises those issues, the state has the right to have Belcher examined by its own expert.

Johnson agreed to give Stokes 10 days to respond to a response Barrett filed Monday to the defense motion concerning experts and privilege.

Stokes said the defense is also requesting original copies of any digital evidence. She said copies of photographs the state turned over to the defense contained in a PDF file are missing the “meta-data” which should be embedded with information concerning where and when the photos were taken.

Barrett said she will determine if the photographs in the state’s possession contain the meta-data or if they were received without it by her office.

Johnson scheduled the case for another pretrial hearing next month.

If Belcher is found guilty of capital murder she faces death by lethal injection or life without parole. She is also charged with second-degree battery in connection with injuries found on McKinley’s younger brother.

Belcher’s husband, Everette Cawley, is charged with two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor for allegedly allowing the abuse to occur and doing nothing to stop it.

Everette Cawley brought McKinley to St. Michael’s Hospital in Texarkana, Texas, in the early morning hours of April 2. The girl was unresponsive and medical staff immediately suspected child abuse.

McKinley was airlifted to Little Rock and died in a hospital there the same day.

Belcher is being held in the Miller County jail without bail.

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