Jurors on Tuesday afternoon found Newton County parents Christopher McNabb and Cortney Bell guilty in the death of their 2-week-old baby. McNabb was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Bell to 30 years with 15 to serve.
The trial, which included harrowing testimony about the conditions in which the baby lived and her horrific death, ended with tears and defiance.
“I’m innocent. I didn’t do it,” McNabb told Judge John Ott. “If you ever find out who did it, they deserve to be under the jail.”
McNabb and Bell were tried together, then brought into the courtroom individually for sentencing.
“I was beat as a child and I don’t agree with this at all,” McNabb insisted during his sentencing. “I don’t agree with this at all. I would never do this.”
Bell sobbed as Ott delivered withering remarks prior to announcing her sentence. Good parents, he said, even those in nature, do everything in their power to keep their children from harm. Instead of exhibiting any “mama bear” nurturing, Ott said, Bell chose meth and McNabb over protecting Caliyah.
“It’s a sickness but I tried to be a good mama. I love my babies,” Bell said. She and McNabb also have an older daughter, who was 2 at the time Caliyah died and is living with a relative.
Ott wasn’t swayed in the least by Bell’s tears.
“Like most criminals, you have a version of what a good mama is that is so far from the norm,” he said.
Caliyah had multiple skull fractures and her teeth poked through her gums, the medical examiner testified. Her tiny body was discovered in a drawstring Nike bag in a wooded area not far from the family’s mobile home.
Bell reported the baby missing in October 2017 and McNabb angrily demanded her return in front of television cameras. It’s likely that Caliyah was already dead by the time McNabb pleaded for the community’s help in finding her.
He was indicted on eight counts, including malice murder, felony murder, second-degree murder, aggravated battery and concealing the death of another. Bell was indicted by the grand jury on second-degree murder, child cruelty and child deprivation charges.
Jurors took about an hour to convict them both on all charges.
McNabb’s attorney, Anthony Carter, said his client’s face tattoos, as well as his history of violence against Bell and the couple’s drug use allowed investigators to label him a killer.
“They focused on Chris McNabb from the very beginning,” Carter said during his closing remarks.
Once they had their guy, Carter said, investigators then “cut corners” on the investigation, leaving questions in the case.
Bell’s attorney, Bryan Frost, also argued that she was not responsible for the newborn’s death.
District Attorney Layla Zon said only Caliyah’s parents could have been the culprits in her death. McNabb and Bell kept a filthy home, used drugs and had a violent relationship, jurors learned during their trial.
“She was a gift to Cortney Bell and Christopher McNabb,” Zon said during closing arguments. “That child was doomed the moment they left that hospital. They took pure innocence and brought that child into a life of hell.”
— Please return for updates.