Pa. man sentenced to 35 years in infant's death

December 08, 2010|By DON AINES |
  • Nicholas Ray McKee
File photo

Maintaining his innocence, Nicholas Ray McKee was sentenced Wednesday in Washington County Circuit Court to 35 years in state prison for the January death of his infant daughter, Bella Appel-McKee.

“I don’t know how to plead for mercy for something I didn’t do,” McKee said before Circuit Judge Daniel P. Dwyer sentenced him at the conclusion of a hearing that lasted more than 90 minutes.

Dwyer found McKee, 23, formerly of Warfordsburg, Pa., guilty of first-degree child abuse resulting in death, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and second-degree assault during an October bench trial. Dwyer did not find McKee guilty of the most serious charge, second-degree murder.

“Nick just didn’t kill Bella, he killed my dreams and my future,” said Jordan Appel, mother of the 5-week-old infant. Bella died of brain injuries sustained Jan. 3 while at McKee and Appel’s Hancock home, according to court documents.

McKee had been left alone with Bella that Sunday night when Appel went to have dinner with her family at about 6 p.m. Half an hour later, McKee texted Appel that Bella was not breathing and had gone limp, according to trial testimony. The child died six days later at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., according to court documents.

There was conflicting expert testimony at trial about the cause of the injuries, with prosecution experts testifying that Bella’s injuries were consistent with having been shaken or slammed against a hard, flat surface. A defense expert testified the child died of injuries sustained at birth that did not prove fatal for several weeks.

McKee did not testify during his trial.

The courtroom was filled this morning with family and friends of both the victim and defendant. Appel and Bella’s grandmother, Michelle Wiles, both addressed the court, as did Bella’s great-aunt, Lorie Faith, who asked McKee to “confess your guilt so that we have some kind of closure.”

McKee’s father, John McKee, told the judge the evidence did not prove his son harmed the baby and that some of the injuries could have happened after the child was dead.

“What about the idea that, maybe after Bella passed away, someone dropped her on a hard, flat surface,” the father said of the skull fractures, which he said were not discovered until the autopsy.

Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Wilson asked Dwyer to consider a 40-year sentence, the maximum that could be imposed.

“Forty years hanging over someone’s head who killed an infant. That’s not too much to ask,” Wilson said.

Dwyer sentenced McKee to 30 years for the first-degree child abuse resulting in death and a consecutive 10 years for the manslaughter conviction, suspending five years. The rest of the sentences on the lesser offenses were run concurrently.

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