THIS JUST IN: The case has gone to the jury. Return for updates.
Cortney Marie Bell never wanted to be a mother.
Raised by her father and grandparents, she didn’t know who her own mother was until she was entering her teen years. Parenthood held no lure, she has told authorities.
The Newton County woman on trial this week, accused in her newborn’s death, also has told police that her views on motherhood changed after she met Christopher Michael McNabb, also on trial this week.
Two years ago they had their first daughter, Clarissa. About two weeks after their second child was born, life changed horribly, and forever.
“Sissy’s gone,” they say Clarissa reported to them one morning. Bell called 911, telling police the baby was missing.
Authorities contend that by the time McNabb made a public appeal for the baby’s return, she was already dead. Her tiny body would be found in a Nike drawstring bag, a short distance from the family’s mobile home.
Jurors now will decide if they should be held responsible.
» PHOTOS | ‘Baby Caliyah’ murder trial, May 13, 2019
The baby’s death was no accident, according to the medical examiner’s report. She had multiple skull fractures and her teeth were forced through her newborn gums.
“That child was doomed the moment they left that hospital,” Newton County District Attorney Layla Zon said during closing arguments on Tuesay. “They took pure innocence and brought that child into a life of hell.”
The defense argues there is no evidence tying Bell and McNabb to the death.
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, led investigators to label him a killer.
“They focused on Chris McNabb from the very beginning,” Carter said during his closing remarks. He contends that by focusing on McNabb, investigators “cut corners” in not exploring all possibilities.
Prosecutors argue that Caliyah suffered from that violence even before she was born. McNabb struck Bell while she was still pregnant. Caliyah was born about a month early on Sept. 23, 2017. Jurors also heard testimony indicating that violence and drugs were constant in her parents’ relationship.
‘She always had bruises’
Georgia Department of Corrections records show McNabb apart from Bell and their older daughter during the first year of that child’s life. Instead, the now 2-year-old spent much of her time in the care of her grandfather, Timothy Bell.
Timothy Bell testified last week, telling jurors he provided everything his older granddaughter needed. When Caliyah was born, he said he did the same, buying diapers, clothes, car seats or other items.
Caliyah spent four days at the hospital after her birth. Within days, according to family members, Bell and McNabb dropped her off at a cousin’s trailer for at least two days. That cousin, Megan Sorrells, told jurors she had four children of her own. Sorrells said McNabb was violent against Bell.
“She always had bruises on her,” Sorrells said. “I didn’t really have to ask many questions. I could tell.”
Timothy Bell was angry when he found out Sorrells was caring for both granddaughters. On Oct. 3, 2017, deputies responded to a dispute between Timothy Bell and his daughter and McNabb. Timothy Bell testified he didn’t want his granddaughters around drugs and feared for their safety. He took over their care, but told his daughter he would bring them to her if she and McNabb cleaned up their trailer. And they did, he testified.
Around lunchtime on Oct. 6, 2017, Bell brought both girls to the family’s trailer, along with diapers, milk and formula. It was the last time Timothy Bell would see Caliyah alive.
That night, McNabb, Bell and one of Bell’s cousins smoked meth while both girls slept in a nearby bedroom, the cousin Craig Weatherford testified.
‘Death would have been rapid’
McNabb told investigators he fed Caliyah around 9:30 a.m. the following morning. About an hour later, McNabb and Bell were awakened by their 2-year-old, who was crying and saying, “Sissy’s gone.”
While Bell called family members and then 911, McNabb left the trailer. When deputies arrived, McNabb wasn’t at the trailer, various investigators testified. When he returned, he was wet and seemed nervous, according to deputies. McNabb said he’d been in the woods looking for his baby.
In interviews with deputies, McNabb and Bell gave similar accounts of the morning. Neither said they could imagine what had happened to their baby, and both denied being involved, speculating that someone had kidnapped her. That evening, McNabb made an emotional plea in front of television cameras.
“I want my kid back, man,” McNabb said. “That’s my child, man. I want my kid!”
The following afternoon, searchers made the heartbreaking discovery in the woods, about 900 yards from the family’s trailer. Caliyah was dead inside a Nike drawstring bag.
Bell and McNabb were in a relative’s car heading back to the trailer park when they got the news, witnesses testified. McNabb jumped out of the car and ran, but was later captured and arrested for violating his probation. Days later, McNabb was charged with Caliyah’s murder.
The baby died from blunt force trauma to the head and had multiple skull fractures, a GBI forensic pathologist testified. Caliyah’s death was no accident.
“The death would have been rapid with the extent of these injuries,” Dr. Lora Darrisaw testified.
McNabb was indicted on eight counts, including malice murder, felony murder, second-degree murder, aggravated battery and concealing the death of another. Bell, not intially charged, was indicted by the grand jury on second-degree murder, child cruelty and child deprivation charges.
Investigators believe McNabb killed the baby, and believe Bell was negligent and left Caliyah in a dangerous environment.
Judge John Ott on Monday denied a request from McNabb’s defense attorney, Anthony Carter, to declare a mistrial, arguing the defendants shouldn’t have been tried together.
“It was a mistake to join these trials,” Carter argued.
After Ott denied the motion, prosecutors concluded their case and defense attorneys announced neither McNabb nor Bell would take the stand.
After closing arguments concluded on Tuesday, the case went to the jury.