A Florida man has been charged with murder after his girlfriend told the authorities that the 29-year-old kicked her three-year-old daughter in the head, killing the toddler, as punishment for getting out of her car seat.
An autopsy has revealed that Adelynn Merrell, whose body was found in a wooded area in Crestview last week, died from a skull fracture to the back of the head caused by blunt force trauma.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has now added a count of murder to the initial charge of aggravated child abuse against Cory Hagwell.
Savage act: The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida arrested Cory Hagwell, 29 (left) for killing his girlfriend’s daughter; Mother-of-three Destinee Merrell, 23 (right), was charged as accessory after the fact
Beaten to death: An autopsy showed three-year-old Adelynn (pictured with her brothers last Christmas) died from a skull fracture caused by blunt force trauma
Adelynn’s mother, 23-year-old Destinee Merrell, has been charged with accessory after the fact to murder, aggravated child abuse and three counts of child neglect.
Deputies were called to 4700 Bobolink Way in Crestview on Friday after Adelynn Merrell was reported missing by her mother and the woman’s live-in boyfriend.
Merrell and Hagwell said they hadd last seen the three-year-old playing in the backyard and believed she had been kidnapped.
According to a press release from the sheriff’s office, amidst an intense search for the missing girl, deputies were struck by how ‘calm and unemotional’ Destinee Merrell appeared.
As they continued to talk to her, the mother-of-three eventually confessed that Hagwell had kicked Adelynn in the head and locked her in a closet, then carried the child’s lifeless body to the woods.
After she was transported to the Okaloosa County jail, Merrell revealed under questioning that the incident took place at 6.30am, but she did no check on Adelynn until around 11.30am, but which point she toddler had died.
An hour later, the couple called 911 with a bogus child abduction story, according to the authorities.
In the course of the investigation, Merrell and Hagwell have given conflicting stories as to what happened.
Calculated ruse: Deputies responded to the family’s home in Crestview, Florida (pictured) on Friday after the couple reported Adelynn missing
Mom said Hagwell lost his job about a month ago and began showing escalating violence towards Adelynn (left) by beating her and denying her food
Another child in the home, presumably one of Adelynn’s brothers, said he saw Hagwell kick the three-year-old while she was playing and he heard Merrell say, ‘stop, Cory.’
The boy says he also saw the little girl in a bedroom closet on the floor and not talking – and never saw or heard her again.
During the jail interview, Ms Merrell also told investigators Hagwell lost his job about a month ago and began showing escalating violence towards Adelynn.
Merrell described hearing thuds and the sounds of the three-year-old crying 15-16 times over the past month. She said Hagwell would also withhold food from Adelynn and put her in the closet for extended periods of time.
At the time of the couple’s arrest, sheriff’s deputies had another child removed from the home and taken to a hospital, where a doctor found the five-year-old was suffering from malnutrition, weighing less than 33lbs, with “bones in all regions of his body exposed.’
Both Merrell and Hagwell are being held without bond at the Okaloosa County Jail.