A man accused of leaving his 8-month-old daughter in his car for hours after he was taken into custody at the Snellville Police Department has been charged with second-degree murder, officials said during a Wednesday news conference.
The toddler had been left in the hot car while her father, 20-year-old Davied Japez McCorry Whatley of Grayson, went to pick up a gun that was being held in police property custody, Snellville Detective Jeff Manley said. Whatley went into the building around 2:15 p.m., police said. It was not until after 9 p.m. that the girl was taken to the emergency room by her grandmother, Manley said, though the child had already died.
At the news conference, the GBI identified the girl as Nova Grace Whatley-Trejo.
According to Manley, police property custodians run a background check on anyone attempting to retrieve a gun to ensure they are not releasing a firearm to someone with a felony conviction. The background check on Whatley revealed a warrant for his arrest due to a probation violation and he was taken into custody, Manley said.
At no point did Whatley mention his daughter being left in his vehicle, police said, a claim that is disputed by the family. The girl’s grandmother said Whatley asked multiple times to make a call about his daughter after he was taken into custody, Channel 2 Action News reported.
“He told them,” Whatley’s mother said in an interview with the news station. “He loved his daughter.”
Eventually, Whatley was able to call a friend who then contacted his mother to let her know the girl was still in Whatley’s car, she told Channel 2.
According to Manley, Whatley was nearly continuously recorded on video from the time he was picked up by security cameras in the City Hall lobby to the body cameras of police interacting with him to the security cameras at the Gwinnett County Jail.
After police were notified of the child’s death, officers located Whatley’s 2007 Mazda 3 in the parking lot of Snellville City Hall parked near the dumpsters, police said. Whatley bonded out of jail on the probation violation charge Tuesday night but was rearrested Wednesday morning on the murder charge, Manley said. He was denied bond during a first appearance court hearing Friday morning.
“I’m absolutely astounded that somebody would leave an 8-month-old in the car, park away from our building, and walk up here knowing that child was in the car,” Manley said.
Tuesday’s high temperature was 86 degrees.
There have been multiple cases in the metro Atlanta area recently in which parents or guardians have been charged with second-degree murder — a criminal charge that is relatively new and only applies to killings resulting from cruelty to children. It was introduced in 2014 as a way for prosecutors to bring charges in cases of children being killed as a result of negligence.
Republican state Rep. Christian Coomer of Cartersville crafted the statute because of discrepancies in how law enforcement agencies were charging when a child had died in a hot car. Before second-degree murder was an option, people whose children died in hot cars were typically charged with involuntary manslaughter, which carried a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. The punishment for second-degree murder is 10 to 30 years in prison, and there is no requirement for prosecutors to show intent.
While uncommon, hot car deaths are a persistent threat in the Southeast, including the case of Cooper Harris in Cobb County, who died of heatstroke in June 2014 after being left in a hot car by his father, Justin Ross Harris. Ross Harris was convicted of murder, among other charges, in a trial that garnered national attention due to the explosive, lascivious details about his personal life.
The prosecution successfully argued that Ross Harris, who spent the day of his 22-month-old son’s death texting with an underage girl with whom he had a sexual relationship, intentionally left Cooper in the hot car while at work so he could be free to pursue other women. Ross Harris’ wife initially defended him, but later filed for divorce when information about his extramarital affairs was aired in court, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
Though each child’s death in a hot car is a unique tragedy, many of these incidents leave families broken and devastated in their wake. In 2018, Dijanelle Fowler pleaded guilty to charges related to the death of her baby, who she left in a parked car for six hours while getting her hair done, the AJC reported. The child’s father, an Air Force reservist who was in the Middle East when his daughter died, told the AJC he wanted a harsher sentence for the ex-girlfriend with whom he’d committed to co-parenting.
Another case from 2018 led to murder charges for 24-year-old South Georgia mother Jamie Lee Camacho, whose 3-year-old son was found dead in her car after she left him at home for hours to shop, authorities said.
In South Carolina, a sad case left a set of parents childless after their twin boys died in a hot car after one of the parents likely forgot to drop the two 20-month-olds off at day care, officials said. Brayden and Bryson McDaniel likely died from heatstroke in September 2021, according to Naida Rutherford, the coroner of Richland County, South Carolina.