A three-judge panel of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Monday upheld the manslaughter conviction of a former Warfordsburg, Pa., man in the 2010 death of a Hancock infant.
Nicholas McKee, 24, is serving 35 years in state prison in the death of 6-week-old Bella Appel, who died Jan. 9, 2010, from injuries she sustained six days earlier.
McKee was convicted of manslaughter, first-degree child abuse causing death, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment in a three-day bench trial before Washington County Circuit Judge Daniel P. Dwyer in October 2010.
Monday’s ruling came three days after the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a bill that would increase the penalty for child abuse resulting in death to 40 years from the current 30 years. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote. A similar bill has been introduced in the House.
Jordan Appel, the mother of the victim in McKee’s case, testified last year on behalf of the proposed legislation known as Justice’s Law, named for another Washington County infant who died as a result of child abuse in 2007, Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon.
The basis of McKee’s appeal was that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of reckless endangerment and that the court rendered inconsistent verdicts, the ruling stated.
“We find no merit in (McKee’s) underlying contention,” the appeals court judges wrote. “We are not persuaded that there is any inconsistency, legal or factual, in the verdict reached,” the opinion stated.
Bella Appel was 6 weeks old on Jan. 3, 2010, when Jordan Appel left her with McKee, listed as the baby’s father on her birth certificate, the ruling stated. Appel and her mother returned later in the day to find emergency personnel at her home and the baby in cardiac arrest, it stated.
At trial, Jordan Appel testified that, two days later, McKee told her he had accidentally dropped Bella, the ruling stated.
Experts for the state testified at trial that the infant’s “injuries were consistent with vigorous shaking,” the ruling stated.
McKee’s appeal argued that Dwyer found the child died of “blunt force trauma rather than shaking,” the ruling stated.
“We perceive no error,” the judges wrote.
McKee’s appeal also argued that his conviction for first-degree child abuse resulting in death was inconsistent with his acquittal for second-degree murder, the ruling stated. The court, in its ruling, disagreed.
“That’s a very short time frame,” between when the appeal was argued and the decision was released, Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Wilson said of the ruling. It was just about two weeks ago that the appeal was argued before the Court of Special Appeals, he said, at about the same time the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was hearing testimony on Justice’s Law.