Travis Brown, 31, told a lot of different stories about how 3-year-old Khaleesi Cuthriell died and what happened to the little girl after she disappeared in early 2021. On Wednesday, jurors in Augusta County found his final version less than credible, returning guilty verdicts on all counts against him including aggravated murder, felony murder, child abuse, child cruelty, concealing a dead body, and conspiracy.
In the very first iteration of the tale, Khaleesi wasn’t even dead. In another version, she was dead but had killed herself by intentionally ramming her head into a doorframe. During closing arguments, Brown’s defense attorney claimed another adult was actually the one responsible for the fatal torture the girl suffered.
According to the Staunton News Leader, jurors deliberated for less than four hours before finding the defendant guilty on all charges.
A mother loses her freedom for awhile
Evidence during trial showed how the child came to live with Brown after her mother, Amanda Arey, went to jail for violating her probation, according to Harrisonburg-based ABC affiliate WHSV.
In October 2020, Child Protective Services determined the girl could not live with her father, Ted Cuthriell, since Arey had been living with him at the time of her arrest. The agency also nixed a request for Arey’s sister to take her daughter due to an outstanding CPS case. Finally, in what prosecutors described as a panicked decision, Arey suggested the toddler go live with her friend, Candi Royer, 43, who had offered to babysit in the past. The arrangement made sense to CPS: Royer had a 3-year-old of her own. She also lived with Brown.
Samantha Castelvecchi, the CPS employee in charge, drove the girl to 249 Cattle Scales Road in Waynesboro, where she likely died just a few months later. Testifying on the first day of trial, Castelvecchi said she “attempted to” check in on the child after dropping her off — but admitted she never did. When the arrangement was settled, she said, she did not know Brown was living with Royer, WHSV reported.
A mother loses her daughter forever
Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin showed the court a series of time-lapse images of the once-happy and healthy blonde girl. In the course of what was likely fewer than three months, the child deteriorated both physically and emotionally.
Dr. Robin Foster took the stand on Tuesday, she described Khaleesi’s face as “empty” after just weeks of living with Brown and Royer, saying her treatment “fits the definition of child torture.”
First, the girl was healthy, well-nourished, and she had all of her hair, according to a courtroom report by The News Virginian.
By late November 2020, the child had a few visible cuts and bruises. Some of her hair had begun to fall out, the Leader reported.
“No one likes you.”
By early January 2021, Khaleesi was thin to the point of being unrecognizable, the expert witness testified. She was covered in cuts and bruises; her feet were swollen and purple; she had also been burned. Most of her hair was gone — the 3-year-old girl had been terrorized to the point of being nearly completely bald.
“No one likes you, Khaleesi,” a woman’s voice can be heard off-camera in a Jan. 12, 2021 video. Martin played the footage for jurors in which the girl appears frightened, shaking, confused – forced to stand in her own feces in a bathtub. Prosecutors identified the voice as Royer’s. That was the last day Arey ever spoke to her daughter.
Khaleesi was reported missing by her mother in September 2021 – months after she had died and been thrown in the trash.
Arey said that before the child went to live with Royer and Brown, she was “happy all the time.” The distraught mom had tried to connect with her “sweet” and “smart” daughter several times before that. In March 2021, she sent her cousin, Daniel Mullen, with money and a cellular phone to give to the people watching her daughter. Arey again sent Mullen with money to give Royer and Brown in August 2021.
But every time, she got another excuse.
“Everybody liked her,” Mullen said during tearful testimony — a pointed rejoinder to the vicious criticism the child received from an adult.
A series of shifting excuses
During his initial interrogation, Brown vacillated wildly, jurors would hear over the course of the three-day trial.
“I would never hurt a little girl, man,” the defendant told police on Sept. 19, 2021, WHSV reported.
Later that same day, he would tell investigators: “I might have lost my temper and smacked her. She liked to be smacked.”
The Augusta County Sheriff’s Office kept pressing for information on her whereabouts. Brown said CPS had taken her back into their custody. Then he claimed a friend had the girl and he couldn’t remember the last time he saw her. Finally, came the story about the girl killing herself. Later, his attorney would say the abuse was all Royer’s doing – that Brown was there, of course, but just let it happen; and that he admittedly wasn’t always nice to the 3-year-old.
Even that was a bit of a stretch.
“We did anything any good Christian person would do to help this little girl,” Brown told his ACSO interrogators.
In the end, he told the ACSO a story where where the girl accidentally died – absolving Royer – and he panicked, wrapping her tiny body in a blanket and throwing her in the household trash.
The state didn’t buy it.
“Travis Brown and his girlfriend tortured Khaleesi to death,” Martin said during closing arguments. “He threw her away. She was somebody’s baby, and once he was done with her he threw her away.”
Humiliation and memory
Under Virginia law, the condemned man will automatically be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole on Feb. 8, 2024.
Royer’s trial, on the same charges, is slated to begin Oct. 16.
In another video shown to jurors, the two adults can be seen engaging in a form of child abuse experts call “spurning” – criticizing and/or humiliating a child in an inordinate or illogical fashion. Foster said the psychological abuse resulted in the girl turning in on herself, becoming small and quiet, rarely making eye contact or looking at the camera.
Experts say spurning can have long-term deleterious effects on children, particularly their mental and emotional health.
The adults tell the girl she is going to live somewhere else, refer to themselves as “mommy and daddy” and force her to say that she loves them – then high-five her, saying she deserved the praising touch for not lying. Royer and Brown also tell her she won’t get any Christmas presents this year.
That one was true. She never did.
In December 2021, Waynesboro residents put up a memorial on North Delphine Avenue to celebrate the girl’s life: a Christmas tree.
Khaleesi’s body has never been found.
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