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Jury convicts man accused in toddler death

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. —

A jury found a Dewey man guilty on charges stemming from the first-degree murder of his 15-month-old stepdaughter last year.

The jury found Marcus T. Mitchell guilty Friday on charges of first-degree murder, three counts of child neglect, one count of possession of a controlled dangerous substance and one count of unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia after deliberating about 6 hours. Mitchell was found not guilty on two counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance.

The jury summarily recommended that Mitchell serve life imprisonment and pay a $5,000 fine for the murder, serve one year, 12 years and 25 years for the child neglect charges, and serve six months each for the possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of paraphernalia.

Mitchell appeared flushed and surprised as the verdict was announced in Washington County District Court around 6 p.m. Friday. Mitchell was charged, along with his mother, Juanchellee L. Fitch, and his wife, Ashley Ann Mitchell, in the death of Ashley Mitchell's daughter, Emma Beth Warmberodt.

All three were arrested following Warmberodt's death on Feb. 24, 2012, when police were summoned to the family's home, located in the 300 block of Cherokee in Dewey, in reference to an unresponsive child. Emergency responders were unable to revive the child and say Warmberodt had been dead for some time upon their arrival.

Police have testified that Warmberodt had bruises varying in color and broken ribs, and that she had died of blunt chest trauma.

A surprise in the case came on Thursday when Fitch turned state's evidence and testified against her son. She arrived at court in handcuffs escorted by a Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy, before telling the jury that she had lied to investigators previously in the case.

On the stand she said that she had lied to Dewey Police Department Investigator Sgt. Tim Stringer about seeing the baby prior to her death. The admission conflicted with statements Fitch had made in the initial investigation as well as during preliminary hearings.

When asked why she lied, she said, "I was afraid," and further said it was to protect herself and her son.

Following Warmberodt's death, Marcus Mitchell reportedly told authorities that he had struck Warmberodt on the back when she began choking on cereal. Police say he admitted to seeing blood on the child's face but that he cleaned her face and put her back in a playpen and went to work, court documents show.

During closing statements Friday, Defense Attorney Mark Kane did not contest that Marcus Mitchell had killed the child but said that it was done in an overzealous attempt to help the girl when she was choking.

"I believe that Marcus killed that child when he was striking the child when she was choking," he said.

"Use of unreasonable force? Heck yes," Kane said.

Assistant District Attorney Will Drake said of Mitchell's evolving story, "The evidence of a guilty mind . lies and alibis."

"Was she choking?" I don't know," Assistant District Attorney Jared Sigler said.

He contended that when confronted with questions, Marcus Mitchell "started lying" and said that Marcus Mitchell had told another man, "They're' going to get me with murder."

"Why would he say that if he hadn't done it?" Sigler said.

Ashley Mitchell previously pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the case, and Fitch has waived jury trial and is expected to enter a plea during an upcoming court hearing.

All three are incarcerated at the Washington County Jail.

___

Information from: Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, http://www.examiner-enterprise.com

Copyright The Associated Press

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