Investigators cannot precisely determine how a 3-year-old girl died, but they know she somehow succumbed to protracted torture at the hands of her mother and stepfather.
Though lead defendant Kristie Haas and her co-defendant husband Brandon Haas abused each of the children, they focused on the slain victim, Emma Grace Cole, according to the sentencing memorandum obtained by Delaware outlet The News Journal.
Even the other kids were shocked by how badly the couple treated Emma Grace compared to them.
One of the girls “was confused as to why [Kristie Haas] would do this to Emma and not the rest of the siblings,” documents reportedly stated.
She “didn’t ever remember Emma being called to dinner and that [Kristie Haas] would starve Emma.”
As a punishment, Emma, then 3, was sometimes forced to run while holding weights or pulling a weighted sled down a basement staircase. But she was too young and “couldn’t really do it,” said one of the siblings.
Even so, she was struck if she stopped running. Items included “a spatula, change purse, belt buckle and flip flops.”
That torture ended with Cole’s death sometime in 2019. The Smyrna Police Department responded on Sept. 13, 2019, regarding a child’s remains found at the Smryna-Clayton Little Lass Softball fields. It took more than a year for investigators to identify her as Cole.
Authorities could not uncover the cause of death because Kristie Haas burned the body at the softball field, but Delaware Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Collins had enough to rule it a homicide.
Dr. Stephanie Deutsch, medical director of Nemours Children’s Hospital, determined malnourishment very likely contributed to Cole’s death, based on the description of torture and starvation as well as apparent in photos taken of Cole in late 2018 and early 2019.
She suggested the protracted starvation may have caused Cole’s organs to slowly fail. She also suggested that Cole could have instead died from cardiac arrest because of starvation.
Brandon Haas told his brother in a phone call that he should “attribute Emma’s death to ‘getting her ass beat,'” according to documents in the Delaware Online report.
Brandon Haas pleaded guilty in March to a felony count of endangering the welfare of a child and three misdemeanor counts of the same crime.
Kristie Haas pleaded guilty in May to murder by abuse or neglect, abuse of a corpse, and endangering the welfare of a child. Prosecutors and defense together ask for 30 years in prison.
Emma Grace’s siblings must live with the memory and trauma of what happened. They still suffer from “deep psychological trauma” that could affect their mental and behavioral health for the long term, Deutsch wrote.
This requires “aggressive and ongoing mental health intervention to support their emotional recoveries,” she wrote.
They, too, experienced abuse in the home, documents reportedly stated.
The couple made all four kids do chores they were too young for. The second-youngest child, under 5 then, was ordered to clean toilets, sweep the bathroom floor, and vacuum the home. Brandon Haas told investigators that his wife would “whoop all their asses” if the children did not perform the chores to the couple’s satisfaction.
According to authorities in the Delaware Online report, Kristie Haas confessed to beating the children with a hockey puck or spatula. After being discharged from a drug rehab program in early 2017, she no longer struck them with a belt, she told investigators. This contradicted one of the children, who said that before Cole went to “the special place,” Kristie Haas spanked Emma with a belt. Brandon and Kristie Haas spanked the siblings with a belt that sometimes left a “mark.”
They were made to do extra chores, and the wall sit exercise if they got in trouble, documents reportedly stated. Brandon Haas put something spicy under their tongue as another form of punishment.
One of the girls said that Brandon Haas beat her with wood that he had for his projects.
When Emma went missing, Kristie Haas said their mother made up a story about Emma Grace going to a facility for behavioral issues. But authorities said that on learning about Cole’s death, the children “nearly immediately concluded” their mother did it.
“Mommy is the one who did it,” one of the girls said.
Kristie and Brandon Haas told investigators Emma Grace died in early July 2019, though their perspectives differ.
The mother — who initially spent four hours on a “complex fiction” of Cole going to a Virginia facility for mental problems — changed her story when the FBI confronted her with her lies.
She finally said that on a Saturday or Sunday morning before July 4, 2019, she woke up to find Cole dead in the bedroom the girl shared with her brother.
She ran to the bathroom with the girl, turned on the shower and held her under it.
“Defendant claimed she ‘was so beautiful’ and ‘the happiest I’ve ever seen her,'” prosecutors reportedly wrote. “She claimed she ‘looked like she was just out of her misery.'”
Brandon Haas said that at around 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday in July, Kristie Haas told him “something bad happened” to Cole. She said Cole was not breathing. He claimed he demanded they call 911. He found Cole, and she was “cold.”
His wife told him it was too late, that first responders could not help, but instead of calling 911, he decided to take the other kids to his mother’s home and on a drive around State Route 9.
Kristie reportedly corroborated parts of his story.
“He said, ‘Let’s call the police,'” Kristie Haas said. “And I told him to chill the [censored] out. And then he was like, ‘Oh my God.’ And he sat on the couch and he had his hands over his head.”
She said she told her husband that she took Cole “somewhere beautiful. Somewhere where she could be – free.”
Brandon Haas said his wife never revealed Cole’s whereabouts. She only said the child was “at peace” and “in heaven.”
Kristie Haas, who was “vague” about burning the body, asserted that she did it “as a symbolic measure to ‘set her free.'”
“When Brandon heard during his interview, apparently for the first time, that Defendant had burnt Emma’s body – ‘she was burning?’ – he began screaming and crying,” prosecutors wrote. “‘The [censored] for? What’s the reasoning for that? … What’s the reason for doing that?'”
“That’s it for Emma,” Kristie Haas said during the disappearance. “Emma’s not coming back.”
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