All photos courtesy of Court TV.
COVINGTON, Ga. - After four days of testimony, a Newton County jury will continue to hear the case of Christopher Michael McNabb and Cortney Marie Bell, the parents accused of killing their 15-day-old daughter, Monday.
McNabb faces eight counts related to the death, including malice murder, two counts of felony murder, murder in the second degree, aggravated battery, cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree and concealing the death of another. Bell faces charges of second-degree murder, cruelty to children and contributing to the deprivation of a minor.
Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney Layla Zon and Assistant District Attorney Alex Stone are arguing the state’s case, while Public Defender Anthony Carter and appointed conflict attorney Bryan Frost represent McNabb and Bell respectively. Hearing the case is Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge John M. Ott.
So far, the state has called more than 20 witnesses to testify, including Bell’s mother Pam Hamby, Newton County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeff Alexander, Newton County Coroner Tommy Davis and many more.
In a case that has tugged on the hearts of many, The Covington News has been live in the courtroom for every step of the proceeding to provide the most thorough coverage possible. The trial videos will remain available on The News’ Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/covnews.
Opening arguments lay foundation
Stone opened the case by telling the jury what the state planned to lay out for them.
“The evidence will show that just 14 days later, her father, Christopher Michael McNabb, ended her life so abruptly and with such force that her baby teeth came through her gums and her tongue,” she said. “You will hear that she was then left out in the woods wrapped in clothes and a blanket. She was stuffed in a bag, put under a log and left out for strangers to find.
“The evidence will also show that Cortney Bell was too busy smoking methamphetamine to protect her child.”
Carter then told the jury that his client did not commit this crime and urged the jury to look for reasonable doubt.
“Christopher McNabb had absolutely nothing to do with the disappearance and death of his daughter, Caliyah,” he said. “If you truly sit here today in the presumption that Christopher McNabb is innocent and you hold the state to its burden of proving him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the just verdict – or true verdict – will be not guilty in this case.”
Frost agreed with Carter and continued to emphasized the point that his client is innocent until proven guilty.
“My client sits over there, shrouded with the presumption of innocence,” he said. “The state does have the burden of not just proving every charge, but of proving every single element of every charge that they have been indicted on and that is beyond a reasonable doubt and that is no small burden.
“Some of the things that I would ask you to pay particular attention to are not just the evidence that they put in, but the things that you don’t hear, the things that leave you with questions or thinking ‘I wish I had that answer.’ Those are critical things.”
Witness statements provide evidence, background
The state has laid out its case almost chronologically to how the incident occurred, with the first witness being Christian Favors, the 911 operator who answered Bell’s call reporting her daughter missing Oct. 7, 2017.
In that call, the jury heard Bell tell Favors her 2-year-old daughter, Clarissa, woke her up around 10:30 that morning and she had searched her house high and low and could not find her youngest child, 14-day-old Caliyah.
The state then laid out the family history through the testimony of Timothy Bell, Cortney Bell’s father. He described an incident a few days earlier where the parents left their children at a cousin’s home for multiple days without much contact – suspecting heavy drug use was involved during that time.
Timothy Bell also revealed more about Cortney Bell’s upbringing, stating that her mother, Hamby, never fulfilled that mother figure role for her as a child.
The case continued to lay its case, by calling numerous 911 operators, NSCO deputies and investigators and citizens involved in the search party to find baby Caliyah, showing body camera footage, interrogation video and photographs from the day of the alleged incident.
The state then turned its case to not only the night before, but also the following day after Caliyah was reported missing and details what the parents did overnight, through the testimony of Craig Weatherford, Cortney Bell’s relative.
“Cortney gave me a call and I went over there and we did drugs together (the night before),” he said. “We all smoked a bowl, we smoked meth.”
Weatherford said he was at the McNabb/Bell residence – Eagle Point Trailer Park, Lot 31 – for a maximum of 15 minutes the night before Caliyah was reporting missing. He said when he was there, Caliyah seemed to be healthy and unharmed.
He also testified that McNabb and Cortney Bell stayed at his home the following night, after the search for their daughter had been called off.
The next morning, Oct. 8, 2017, Weatherford testified that after everyone woke up, Cortney Bell and McNabb requested to be dropped off at Hamby’s house, while he went with his fiancé to join the search party looking for the child.
“Cortney was having a hard time, she wanted to get high,” he said. “They were going to come. They were going to come, but Cortney wanted to stop at Pam’s and get high.”
The state also examined the steps the parents took immediately after the news broke that Caliyah’s body had been located.
According to testimony, Cortney Bell and McNabb were in the car with Hamby, Lauren Macke, Cortney’s nephew’s mother, and Macke’s son.
Macke, the driver of the vehicle, told jurors the group was on their way to meet with the media for an interview, when Cortney heard the news that her baby had been located – at this time, Macke did not believe whether or not the information had been relayed that the baby was deceased.
Macke testified that, with the help of Hamby, McNabb proceeded to exit her vehicle at the Covington Bypass Road and Highway 36 intersection, while they were stopped at a red light, and ran the opposite direction.
“They were all acting like they were on meth,” she said. “They were acting really sketchy. I don’t know what I said in the statement, but they were all acting crazy.”
Macke then told the court when she heard the news she immediately wanted to go to where the baby was found, as she believed the baby was still alive at this point.
“I was screaming at everybody to shut the *explicit removed* up, we’re going to see the baby,” she said. “She (Cortney) wanted me to pull over to I believe it’s called Anderson Circle, (which is known for) methamphetamine. I won’t go there.
“When both my children’s father is on drugs, I knew he was on drugs if he was in that neighborhood, so I personally will not go in that neighborhood.”
Macke said she then took everyone in the car back to Cortney and McNabb’s home because she believed the right thing to do was to go to where the baby was found.
The state continued to lay out its case by then going into details on McNabb’s eventual arrest on a probation violation warrant at a nearby gas station and then showing hours of interrogation video with NCSO investigators, Cortney Bell and McNabb.
Autopsy photos revealed to the court
As the state was laying out its case, it also called upon the testimony of Lora Darrisaw, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. Darrisaw performed the autopsy on baby Caliyah Monday, Oct. 9, 2017.
She confirmed the cause of death was a blunt impact into the head and manner of death was determined to be homicide.
She also reviewed autopsy photos to the court, showing excessive bruising and disfiguration of the baby.
Darrisaw said the injuries observed to Caliyah’s skull are consistent with a blunt object or a crushing injury.
Per a court order and the The News’ policy, the autopsy photos will not be published anywhere associated with this newspaper.
Jury views the scene
During Wednesday afternoon’s court proceedings, the jury was loaded into county vans and transported to the former residence of Cortney Bell and McNabb. From there, they were able to walk through the woods, using a cleared power line easement, and view where Caliyah’s body was located.
Joining the jury was Ott, all of the attorneys and court bailiffs.
During the view, jurors were only specifically told what they were being shown, and not given any testimony or detailed information.
Previously, one of the state’s witnesses, provided a three-dimensional scanned image, using computer software, of the inside of the residence, the trail and the body’s location, but Carter, Frost and Zon agreed that even with the three-dimensional software, it was still difficult to fully imagine the distance between all of the points related to this incident.
Trial continues into next week
At the close of Thursday’s proceedings, Ott asked the jury if it would like to reconvene over the weekend or first thing Monday morning and an almost unanimous decision was made to return Monday for additional testimony and closing arguments in the case.
The Covington News will continue to live stream this trial and provide coverage until a verdict is reached and sentencing is complete, if required.