Girl, 8, blamed in trial of woman convicted of killing fiance's baby
05/03/2016 11:37 am PDT
Little Anna Bell, 20 months old, dead under the watch of her daddy Brandon Bell's fiancee, Emily DeFries. The details of the horrific case made headlines in Virginia and sparked public outrage.
Anna's lifeless body was discovered at the bottom of a 13-foot staircase with blunt force trauma to her skull. Her tiny arm was yanked from its socket, her small frame riddled with bruises, and evidence of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
"She had an arm fracture, she had bruising behind her ears, bruises on the bridge of her nose, bruises on her chin and around her neck. She had abdominal bruising," said Heather Bell, Anna's biological mother.
Emily DeFries was the only adult in the home of her fiance the day Anna died. She's an immediate suspect.
Under interrogation by police, Emily insists she found the child at the bottom of the steps, denying any involvement in Anna's death to dubious detectives.
Under the glaring suspicion of police, Emily portrays herself as a loving mother to her own young son and a devoted role model to her fiance's children, little Anna and her 8-year-old sister.
Text messages shortly before Anna was found dead between Emily and Brandon show all was seemingly under control in the home as she cared for the three children.
"She had no prior record whatsoever, she'd been honorably discharged and served exemplary with the U.S. Navy, was pursuing advanced degrees," said James Broccoletti, DeFries's attorney. "Nothing in any way shape or form from the time she was a little girl until the time this incident happened could have predicted or indicated she was capable of such an event.
"That 911 call displayed emotion, displayed fear displayed just an unawareness of how this had happened," said Broccoletti.
But Anna's biological mother Heather had her concerns about Emily's treatment of Anna.
"I noticed months before she passed away she was very clingy to me. I could tell something was off," said Heather. "I would tell people at work 'Something's going on over there.' Anna's coming back with bruises and bloody nose.
"I asked my older daughter if there was things going on and she said she didn't like going to her dad's house because Emily was mean, and that she would yell at her," said Heather. "Now I have some guilt because I didn't go on my instinct."
Heather does admit to Crime Watch Daily that Anna had fallen down steps in her own home. In fact, her child was prone to falling.
Day care records recount three occasions in a six-month period.
Writes one caregiver: "...Anna climbed in the high chair and before I could get to her she fell and hit her head."
A second incident: "She fell causing her to hit the side of her face."
And a third: "Anna fell off the chair and got a red mark on her left side of forehead."
On each occasion, the injuries were minor.
But in the case of her death under the care of Emily: a smashed skull? An arm pulled from its socket?
"Anna's cause of death was as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, it was a significant skull fracture which caused tremendous internal injuries to the brain," said Broccoletti.
Emily DeFries was indicted by a grand jury and charged with murder.
Once her trial began, her defense attorney James Broccoletti stunned the courtroom with his theory of who killed baby Anna, and it wasn't Emily.
"There were only two people in the house capable of that: Emily and the 8-year-old," said Broccoletti. "So obviously by process of elimination, it's not Emily, it has to be the 8-year-old."
Broccoletti shockingly points to Anna's 8-year-old sister as the ruthless, cold-blooded child capable of beating her baby sister to death. He placed the little girl in front of the jury to prove his point.
"We had to get the jury to see that from a physical standpoint, from a stature standpoint, that she had the sufficient strength and ability to commit such an act," said Broccoletti.
The big sister, insisted Broccoletti, had a history of violent outbursts aimed at Anna.
"When my oldest daughter had to testify in court, it was hard because I couldn't do anything," said Heather. "They did allow her to have a stuffed animal with her while she took the stand.
"My feelings towards Emily blaming my oldest daughter for Anna's death, I just knew it was a lie. Like, you're coming up with lie after lie," said Heather.
Prosecutors argued it was Emily who murdered the child and staged her body at the bottom of the steps to look like an accident. The motive that prosecutors theorized? Emily had just gotten engaged to Brian the night before and was distracted with wedding plans. Anna got in the way.
The jury found Emily guilty of second-degree murder, but compromised on the sentence. She got 20 years -- it could have been 40.
"If Anna had to sacrifice her own life and she only lived 20 months, I don't see why she should not serve the full term," said Heather.
"When the jury came back with 20 years, I was very surprised, and that it indicated to me some sort of compromise that had been reached in the jury room," said James Broccoletti.
As for Brandon? He stuck by Emily's side for a time, refusing to believe his beloved fiancee murdered his little girl. He even tried to raise funds for her defense with a GoFundMe page, writing: "I am trying to collect money for my fiancee. She is wrongfully accused..."
That romance has since fizzled as Emily lives her life behind bars.
Emily is appealing but for now, the doors of justice have been closed. For Heather Bell, the wounds are still wide open.
"People tell me you can't hate, you have to forgive, but I'm only two years in and I don't even like calling her by name," said Heather. "The name I give her is 'evil witch.' And I hope one day when it is my time to go to Heaven that God will tell me why it had to happen."