Abused Utah 3-year-old ‘looked like a Holocaust victim,’ officers testify
McKenzie Romero, KSL.com
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OGDEN, Utah — Walking into an Ogden home and finding the emaciated body of an alleged victim of child abuse last summer, an Ogden police officer was so stunned she found herself backing up against a wall.
The tiny girl wrapped in a pink blanket, lying on the floor in a completely empty room, looked far too small to be 3 years old, Ogden police officer Sitka Hrabal testified in court Friday.
“It looked like a Holocaust victim,” Hrabal said, describing her first impression of Angelina Costello’s body.
Ogden police detective Richard Childress, who oversaw the girl’s autopsy, added his testimony that the girl’s skeletal frame on the medical examiner’s table reminded him of children from “concentration camps” and “the poorest of Third World countries.”
“Severely malnutritioned doesn’t even really describe it,” Childress said. “Starvation would be better.”
Angelina weighed only 13.67 pounds, the weight of a 3-month-old infant rather than a 3-year-old toddler, when her body was found in her family’s new home in the 2800 block of Grant Avenue, according to prosecutors.
It took a medical examiner four hours to document the extensive injuries, Childress said, including internal injuries and massive hemorrhaging to the back of Angelina’s head. The cause of death was determined to be a combination of starvation and blunt force trauma.
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Angelina died July 6 after prosecutor Christopher Shaw said her parents abused her and tortured her until her body could no longer bear it.
Miller Eric Costello, 25, and Brenda Emile, 23, are both charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony and a potential capital offense. A two-day preliminary hearing for the couple began Friday.
The couple has “self-proclaimed ties to a transient Romanian gypsy community” and had lived in the home less than a week when Angelina died, according to the charges.
As Angelina’s death was investigated, Hrabal was tasked with reviewing photos and videos the girl’s parents had made on their cellphones. The images showed the girl becoming progressively skinnier and showing more apparent injuries in the last year of her life, even as her parents seemed to taunt her with food and showed preference for her two siblings — sometimes making her feed the other children or watch them eat, Hrabal testified.
A selection of photos and videos were presented during Friday’s hearing as 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda considers whether to order the couple to stand trial.
In one video, dated July 9, 2016, Angelina’s mother, Emile, is eating food from a plate, holding out forkfuls in front of the girl’s mouth. Angelina sits quietly, a bruise visible on her cheek, as her mother repeatedly asks, “Do you want to eat?” then pulls the food away laughing, “I lied!”
In another video, taken in August 2016, Angelina’s father, Costello, quizzes his daughter about who she likes and who she doesn’t. He then asks Angelina, “Do you wish I was dead?” and “Are you evil?”
When the toddler answers with a gleeful, “Yeah!” Costello mutters back, “evil,” and calls the girl by an expletive.
In the photos and videos taken in the months that followed, an emotional Hrabal pointed to increasing bruising on the girl’s face and arms, even as her frame becomes skinnier and her hair thins. Her eyes become sunken. A chunk is missing from the tip of her misshapen nose.
On April 15, the parents took a video of Angelina sitting on a floor in pink sweats, her legs tucked up into her chest, as she sucks on a slice of onion. The girl’s nose is bleeding as her father quizzes her about what she’s eating and whether she likes it.
Over time, Angelina is seen wearing only long sleeves, long pants and knit caps, Hrabal noted, even on an 82-degree day during a family trip to Disneyland in May 2017.
One video from that day shows Emile laughing and fanning herself, commenting on the heat. In another, Costello narrates that the family is on vacation, then pans to Angelina, bundled from head to toe as she lays lethargic in a stroller, bruising on her face and her sunken eyes half closed.
“We’re in Disneyland,” Costello says. “What’s nice girl doing? Nothing.”
In a series of images after that, her outfit doesn’t seem to change for three days, Hrabal testified.
Throughout the videos, Angelina’s younger sister and other brother appear playful, healthy, energetic and well-groomed.
In taped police interviews, Emile insisted that up until a few days before she died, Angelina had been as healthy as her siblings with the exception of a bout of Clostridium difficile — a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea — in 2015. In the last days of her life, Emile said Angelina had been extremely tired, had diarrhea and wouldn’t eat.
“She just felt a little, not herself, but not to the point that we were going to take her to the emergency room,” Emile said.
When told her daughter had injuries on her body, she replied that the girl maybe had “minor little dings” but it was “nothing serious.”
Costello told police in his interview that Emile would become angry if he tried to feed Angelina. He also said he had been “praying” someone would realize something was wrong and help his daughter.
“I knew. I knew it. I knew she was going to die,” Costello said.
“You were right,” the officer conducting the interview replied.
Following an outburst in the courtroom, Emile’s mother, Buffy Emile, 45, was arrested Friday. The woman had been asked to leave the courtroom in case she is later called to testify in the case, but she stuck her head back in the courtroom to shout, “You killed my baby!” followed by an expletive.
She was arrested in the hallway on the judge’s orders. DiReda said he would hold the woman in contempt of court “for her outburst and for her profanity and the disruption of these proceedings.”
Jail records show she was booked into the Weber County Jail.
The preliminary hearing for Emile and Costello continues on Monday.
This article was originally published by fellow CNN affiliate KSL.com. It is used here with permission.