Bell, 25, was charged with murder and manslaughter for Brook Stagles' death last November. Testimony in Bell's trial revealed that Brook died of severe intestinal rupture triggered by blows to her abdomen.
Erica Bell, charged with murder for the death of a toddler, took the witness stand in her own defense Tuesday but then faced blistering cross examination from prosecutors, culminating in her own recorded voice telling the courtroom: “I just killed a little girl.”
Bell also drew scorn from relatives of her alleged victim. “Just wanted to jump up there,” exclaimed John Geer, grandfather of 3-year-old Brook Stagles. “I mean, it's hard to sit still it's hard to take it. It's hard to digest it. It's hard to manifest exactly her angle of lies and twisted way of thinking."
Bell, 25, was charged with murder and manslaughter for Brook Stagles’ death last November. Testimony in Bell’s trial revealed that Brook died of severe intestinal rupture triggered by blows to her abdomen. Her father, Michael Stagles was charged with criminally negligent homicide and was scheduled for trial in late September.
Bell’s defense attorneys have portrayed her as a victim of domestic violence, willing to cover for Michael Stagles who they portrayed as an abusive partner and Brook’s real killer.
It was a notion Geer readily dismissed. “I just know that Mike loved Brooke very much,” he said. “And, you know, never a word of abuse of Brooke in any way shape or form. I've never… I pushed his buttons a million times. He's not that kind of guy that would get violent."
In her testimony Thursday, Bell recalled her childhood in a broken home and alleged abuse, including sexual abuse, by her mother’s boyfriend. She then detailed her descent from drug experimentation in her early teens into a full blown heroin habit which left her jailed on burglary and larceny charges for stealing scrap metal to buy drugs.
She declared she had seen her boyfriend Michael Stagles punch, or “jab,” Brook in the stomach shortly before her hospitalization and death but denied allegations by other witnesses that the little girl appeared so listless and ill that it was obvious she was in dire need of medical attention.
Prosecutors have implied that Bell not only beat Brook but contributed to her death by failing to get her treatment for injuries that could have been treated.
Bell also denied beating Brook herself and said she had earlier falsely admitted to punching the child to cover for her father and avoid the attention of Child Protective Services.
But prosecutors grilled her, eliciting an admission that she had slapped and spanked Brook.
Bell became increasingly agitated, as during cross examination, prosecutors played recorded phone conversations between Bell, then in jail, and her grandmother Deborah Smith.
In those recordings, Bell was heard to admit punching Brook and later admits to punching her repeatedly. But after hearing word of Brook’s death, Bell changes her story and accuses Michael Stagles of punching the girl.
In two of the last recordings prosecutors played, Bell’s grandmother urges her to come clean with police investigators and admit she beat Brook. Bell insists she would and says she was not going to lie.
In the last, Bell confesses to her grandmother “I just killed a little girl.” Defense attorneys planned to redirect Bell’s testimony Wednesday.