Update 6/13/22 5:50 p.m.— A verdict is reached in the trial of the death of 8-year-old Raylee Browning.
The jurors find her father, Marty Browning, Jr., his wife Julie Browning, and her sister Sherie Titchenell guilty of child neglect resulting in death.
All three were found not guilty of death of a child by child abuse. Jurors said neglect from the defendants resulted in the child’s death.
A sentencing date is set for August 8, 2022 at 9 a.m.
FAYETTEVILLE, WV (WVNS) — Special prosecutor Brian Parsons and the three court-appointed defense attorneys for Marty Browning Jr., Julie Browning and Sherie Titchenell made closing arguments to jurors in Fayette County Circuit Court on Monday.
According to Parsons, “the system” set up to protect Raylee failed because her “caregivers” knew how to abuse the system. Based on court documents, Nicholas County Child Protective Services (CPS) failed to provide help for Raylee, despite teachers and others having made more than a dozen referrals.
Dr. Joan Phillips, a child abuse expert from Charleston, testified that Raylee had been the victim of medical abuse. Medical abuse, formerly known as Muchhausen-by-proxy, occurs when a caregiver lies to medical providers so that a child receives unnecessary medical procedures and medicines. Parsons said Raylee, who died at age 8, had been diagnosed with autism, an eating disorder, a binge eating disorder, behavior disorder, self mutilation, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Parsons showed Raylee’s nearly-full prescription pill bottles to jurors and noted that the caregivers had not been giving her regular medication. Parsons asked jurors whether it was more alarming for Raylee to have been prescribed the medications or that the three adults were not administering them. All of the diagnoses were made based on information the caregivers provided, he said.
In his closing, Parsons refused to call Marty, who was Raylee’s biological father and had primary custody, a “parent.” He said Julie told Marty on Dec. 20 that Raylee needed to go to the hospital. Marty reportedly spent 45 minutes away from the house and did not take his child to the hospital when he returned home, said Parsons.
Court documents stated none of the adults took Raylee to the hospital, despite Raylee asking to go, said Parsons. He argued that they were afraid to take her to the hospital because her body showed signs of abuse. He said toxicology reports showed that Raylee as extremely dehydrated when she came to the hospital and reminded them that Julie’s daughter testified she had seen Raylee once drink from a toilet because the three defendants.
He also told jurors he believed Raylee was already dead when Sherie called 911 around 11:42 a.m. on Dec. 26, 2018. He pointed out that when Raylee arrived at Plateau Medical Center via ambulance within 15 minutes of the call, ER staff could not get a temperature because medical thermometers do not record temperatures lower than 84 degrees.
“How on earth did a kid go somewhere from north of 98.6 degrees to less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 10 minutes?” Questioned Parsons.
Julie said she had seen Raylee eat on Christmas, prompting her to believe that Raylee needed only medication and not a hospital visit, said Julie’s attorney. He pointed out that medical experts testified Raylee died of pneumonia and that the injuries to Raylee were in places she could reach, suggesting they could have been self-inflicted.
Evan Dove, Sherie’s attorney, told jurors the case is about Constitutional rights. He said parents who make a mistake in judgment can go to prison, according to the state’s argument. Dover reminded jurors that doctors and Nicholas Child Protective Services (CPS) workers had found no abuse.
“The state really has one witness, and it’s a compelling witness,” he said, referring to Julie’s oldest child.”
Dove said the girl, now 15, was “intelligent” and that she had “been with the state for three years.” He said that she was 11 years old when she talked to CPS and, according to the state’s argument, had been intelligent enough to trick the entire division of Nicholas CPS.
Steve Mancini, Marty’s attorney, said most of the state’s abuse allegations occurred in Nicholas County, which does not fall under the Fayette Circuit Court jurisdiction.
“They cannot be convicted here, even if those allegations are true,” he said.
He continued saying state medical examiners did not testify to the exact symptoms of the pneumonia and that medical workers who testified did not fully investigate the strain of pneumonia. Raylee’s doctors did not report abuse when she broke her leg or at other times. Medical workers must report abuse, under state law.
“All these people are criminals? No,” Mancini said, adding there was no evidence of abuse so they did not report it.
He said Fayette County relied on Nicholas records and that Raylee had never reported to her gym teacher or others that her dad or the two women were abusing her.
Parsons told jurors the medial examiner’s records alone did not prove wrongdoing. He reminded them of an infectious disease expert who testified that Raylee’s caregivers failed by not taking her to a doctor when she was ill. He said the CPS worker who testified could not answer basic questions about Raylee’s case.
“DHHR failed. They let Raylee down,” he said.
“I guess all we’ve got to say about the child who testified is that because she’s got a normal life now, she can’t tell the truth?”
“Raylee’s last words, on the record at least, ‘“i want to go to the hospital,’” said Parsons. “She was desperate to save her life.”
Parsons said Fayette County will be judged by how they treat Raylee, after her death.
“I implore you, don’t let Raylee down,” said Parsons.
Jurors entered deliberations on the sixth day of the trial.