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Bell 2019 murder conviction in Newton County overturned
Cortney Marie Bell
Cortney Marie Bell

ATLANTA — A state appeals court has tossed the murder conviction of a woman found guilty of killing her newborn daughter.

Cortney Bell and Christopher Michael McNabb were found guilty of the death of 15-day-old Caliyah in a 2019 trial in Newton County Superior Court.

The child died two years earlier after going missing from a trailer park near Covington.

After a trial, Chief Judge John M. Ott sentenced Bell to 30 years with 15 to be served in prison on her convictions of second-degree murder, second-degree cruelty to children and contributing to the deprivation of a minor.

McNabb received a sentence of life without the chance of parole, plus 10 years, after conviction on eight counts including murder.

Bell appealed her conviction asserting insufficient evidence to support the verdicts. The state Court of Appeals agreed in a ruling issued Friday.

The court vacated the murder and child cruelty verdicts but sustained the deprivation conviction.

Bell was arrested Jan. 7, 2018, about three months after Caliyah’s death and after McNabb had been charged with murder. She maintained her innocence.

Although the Superior Court denied Bell’s request for a new trial, the appeals court agreed with her argument that the evidence did not show sufficient evidence she had anything to do with the trauma that killed Caliyah, and therefore she did not engage in conduct that rose to the level of cruelty to children in the second degree.

But the Court of Appeals did agree Bell’s conduct in the days leading up to Caliyah’s death warranted the conviction of contributing to the dependency of a minor. Bell failed to use proper care by using drugs and having the child in the presence of McNabb, who had used methamphetamine daily.

McNabb also used brass knuckles in an altercation with a man shortly before Caliyah’s birth.

Monroe attorney Eric Crawford represented Bell on her appeal. He said he anticipates Bell’s case will be placed on the Newton County Superior Court calendar for resentencing, unless the state appeals the Friday ruling to the state Supreme Court.

In a statement to his office’s Facebook page Friday, District Attorney Randy McGinley said he would review the court ruling and make a decision on whether to appeal, but noted the count that stands still carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

“Either side, including the state, may appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court,” McGinley said. “If neither side does, then Bell will be resentenced to the offense that was affirmed.

“Any decision on whether to appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia will be made after a thorough review of today’s opinion by the Court of Appeals.”

Layla Zon was the district attorney during the 2018 trial of McNabb and Bell. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Zon to a Superior Court judgeship in 2020.

Bell is serving her sentence at the Emanuel Women’s Facility in Swainsboro, to be released no later than Jan. 5, 2033.