Stepmom accused in 3-year-old’s death gets legal team

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A woman accused of beating her husband’s 3-year-old daughter to death earlier this month has been appointed two lawyers from the Arkansas Public Defender Commission in Little Rock.

Texarkana, Ark., police were notified by Texas-side police after Everette Cawley, 23, ran into a local emergency room April 2 carrying his daughter, McKinley Cawley. Hospital staff immediately suspected McKinley’s injuries were the result of physical abuse and notified authorities.

After initially pointing blame at McKinley’s biological mother who lives in El Paso, Texas, and whom McKinley had recently visited, Everette Cawley allegedly admitted to investigators that it was his wife, 27-year-old McKenna Belcher Cawley, who had caused the severe blunt force injuries that would prove fatal, according to a probable cause affidavit. McKinley died April 2 at a hospital in Little Rock after being airlifted from Texarkana.

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McKenna Belcher Cawley has been charged with capital murder in McKinley’s death and with second-degree domestic battery in connection with less severe injuries discovered on McKinley’s 2-year-old brother. An infant daughter of McKenna Cawley and Everette Cawley born Jan. 30 required treatment of a yeast infection on her neck which was bleeding at the time she was placed in state custody.

Everette Cawley has been charged with two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor in connection with his daughter’s death and son’s injuries. He is represented by the local public defender’s office. Because McKenna Cawley is facing a capital murder charge punishable by life without parole or death by lethal injection, the Arkansas Public Defender Commission has appointed two of its staff attorneys, Jeff Chandler and Andrea Stokes, to represent her.

Formal charges have not been filed against either parent by the Miller County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The office must evaluate the evidence and determine what formal charges are appropriate.

Everette Cawley faces five to 20 years if convicted of permitting the abuse of a minor resulting in death and up to six years in prison if convicted of permitting the abuse of a minor resulting in injury.

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.

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.

McKenna Cawley is being held in the Miller County jail without bail. Everette Cawley’s bail is set at $1 million. Both are scheduled to appear in court April 30.

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