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Slain girl's dad pleads not guilty to accomplice count

by LYNN LAROWE TEXARKANA GAZETTE | January 27, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

TEXARKANA -- A father accused of failing to protect his 3-year-old daughter from a fatal beating last year pleaded not guilty last week to being an accomplice to capital murder.

Everette Cawley's wife, McKenna Belcher, is charged with capital murder in the death of McKinley Cawley, Everette Cawley's oldest child from a previous relationship. Charges against Cawley were amended by Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett late last month to include the capital charge.

Cawley, 24, failed to intervene as Belcher, 27, beat McKinley to death, authorities said. Both husband and wife also are facing charges over injuries suffered by McKinley's younger brother.

At Tuesday's hearing, Circuit Judge Brent Haltom, Barrett and Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson discussed the future of Cawley's defense. Harrelson was appointed to represent Cawley by the Arkansas Public Defender Commission because the offense of accomplice to capital murder is punishable by death or life without parole, the same potential punishments for capital murder.

Haltom said that the state has raised the issue of Cawley's eligibility for a state-funded defense. Haltom said the defendant is receiving $3,886 monthly in benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The judge told Cawley that while he may qualify for some public funding on a sliding scale in a capital case, he likely will be required to contribute some funds toward his legal expenses.

Harrelson and Barrett told the court Cawley may be in the process of retaining a lawyer on his own. Harrelson agreed to investigate both the issue of who will represent Cawley and whether he qualifies for a publicly funded or partially publicly funded defense.

Harrelson also told the court that his "understanding" is that the state is not seeking the death penalty for Cawley. The state has announced that it will seek death for Belcher.

Barrett said the state is not ready to announce whether a death sentence will be sought for Everette Cawley.

Both Cawley and Belcher are in the Miller County jail.

McKinley died hours after her father ran through the emergency room doors of a Texarkana hospital, carrying her unconscious body on April 2. The gravely injured child was airlifted from Christus St. Michael Health System to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, where she died less than 12 hours later.

At the Little Rock hospital, abuse immediately was suspected as the cause of the child's medical condition and police were contacted when she arrived about 4:30 a.m. on April 2.

McKinley's suffering included a traumatic brain injury and "excessive bruising to the face and torso which is far beyond any over-active child and patterned to suggest use of a rigid object," the affidavit states. Belcher threw, kicked, stomped and beat McKinley in the days and hours before her death, while Cawley failed to protect her, according to authorities. McKinley's head had been shaved before she was taken to the hospital and clumps of hair were found in the couple's duplex and McKinley's underwear. Investigators concluded that McKinley's head was shaved to conceal that clumps of her hair had been yanked from her head.

External injuries similar to those seen on McKinley also 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. The couple's infant, born Jan. 30, was in need of medical attention as well.

The girl had a severe yeast infection "under her neck skin fold," which was bleeding at the time she was taken into state custody.

Cawley also is charged with two counts of permitting the abuse of a minor, each of which is punishable by up to six years in prison. Belcher is scheduled to appear in February before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson for a pretrial hearing.

NW News on 01/27/2020

Print Headline: Slain girl's dad pleads not guilty to accomplice count


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