A capital murder charge has been dismissed against a Watauga father accused of killing his 2-year-old daughter in 2015 after prosecutors learned that the girl’s young brother had admitted causing his sister’s death.
Anthony Michael Sanders, 33, had been accused of suffocating his daughter, Ellie Mae Sanders, while caring for her and his 5-year-old son at the family’s Watauga home on Dec. 12, 2015.
Investigators had theorized that Sanders held his hand over his daughter’s mouth, perhaps because he was upset that the girl had interrupted him as he played computer games.
Sanders had denied harming his daughter, telling Watauga police investigators that he had found his daughter not breathing after his wife had returned home and his son had reported to them that Ellie was asleep and would not wake up.
He was arrested in the case in April 2016 and had been held in the Tarrant County Jail since that time.
A trial date had been set for Sept. 11 but never occurred. Instead, on Sept. 13, prosecutors dismissed the capital murder case against him and he was released from jail.
Samantha Jordan, a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, said Thursday that the office could not discuss the case, nor its dismissal, at this time.
Tim Moore, Sanders’ defense attorney, said his client was “elated” that the charge was dismissed.
“He has denied it from the beginning,” Moore said.
Moore said he believes that his client will not face any other charges in connection with other injuries Ellie reportedly had at the time of her death.
An arrest warrant affidavit had stated the girl had bruises all over her body and around her eyes, commonly referred to as “raccoon eyes,” blood behind her ear and two bite marks, that appeared to be from an adult, on her back.
“That’s obviously up to the district attorney’s office,” Moore said. “It’s my understanding that it’s over; there will be no more charges coming out of it.”
‘Unable to move the pillow’
According to court documents, the case started to unravel on Aug. 23 after Ellie’s mother, Cassie Wright, told prosecutor Dale Smith in a phone call that her now 7-year-old son had told her that he was responsible for his sister’s death.
Wright said her son had told her that he had hit Ellie with a pillow and that the pillow was too heavy to get off the girl, according to a notice of Brady material filed by prosecutors.
“Cassie Wright said that this was the first time [her son] had told her anything like this,” the notice states. “She does not believe [her son] and does not think that what he is telling her makes sense.”
Under Brady disclosure, named for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors must make available to the defense any exculpatory or impeaching information and evidence that is material to the guilt, innocence or punishment of a defendant.
Smith, fellow prosecutor Kelly Meador and investigator Matt Hardy met and interviewed the boy at his home on Aug. 29, according to a separate Brady disclosure notice filed in the case.
The notices states the boy cried as he told them what had happened to his sister:
The boy said he and his sister had been playing with a “heavy” pillow in his parent’s bedroom. He said he had rolled the pillow on his sister’s legs and then accidentally rolled it onto her face.
“He was unable to move the pillow. He said that the pillow was a rectangle and was heavy. It had something zipped inside which made the pillow heavy,” the notice states.
The boy said he went and got his father, telling Sanders that Ellie was dead and about the pillow. He said his father then unzipped the pillow and removed the heavy object from it.
The boy said he had also told his mother what had happened about a year or two years ago. When asked why he never told anyone else, the boy responded that he was “afraid that he would get in trouble.” He was assured by Smith that he would not get in trouble.
Consulted with medical examiner
The Brady notice states that prosecutors and investigator also talked with Wright again that same day. She told them her son had told her “he killed his sister” during a counseling session in the past but that the counselor did not address the statement and no real details were solicited.
She said she never told Smith about the previous statement made in the counseling session and that she had only recently been told by her son about the pillow.
Prosecutors and the investigator also met on Sept. 7 with Dr. Marc Krouse with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office to discuss the possibility of Ellie having been smothered by her brother.
“It’s possible that there is enough of a difference in the strength of a 5-year-old to overpower a 2-year-old,” Krouse said, according to a third Brady notice.
Krouse also told them that he could not disprove the theory that the boy had smothered his sister with a pillow, the notice states.