Staunton, VA

Candi Royer: Defense asks for change of venue, boyfriend enters not guilty plea in murder of missing toddler

Lavinia Thompson

Although three-year-old Khaleesa Hope Cuthriell’s body has never been found, the trials for two suspects charged with her murder in Staunton, Virginia, will proceed this year, WHSV reports.

Candi Royer, the 42-year-old woman taking care of Cuthriell while the toddler’s mother was incarcerated, appeared in court on August 15, 2023 for a pre-trial motion, WHSV says. Royer’s defense team is requesting her trial have a change of venue outside of Augusta County.

The trial is set to begin October 16, 2023, WHSV notes, but Royer’s attorney, Jessica Sherman-Stoltz, is opting to make the change of venue now to ensure they find an impartial jury. She pointed out that the numerous private Facebook groups regarding the case could hold potential jurors, and the private setting makes it hard to weed out those with biased views towards Royer and Brown.

Sherman-Stoltz told the judge that with Royer’s co-defendant Travis Brown’s trial approaching on August 25, 2023, more local attention will hone in on Royer, WHSV says.

Prosecutors argued that there are over 50,000 people in Augusta County, and they should be able to find suitable jurors within the population, WHSV says. The judge expressed his confidence in the court to find an impartial jury, but said he will wait to see how Brown’s trial goes. He has deferred his final decision until then.
Candi Royer and Travis BrownPhoto byAugusta County Sheriff's Department

Travis Brown enters plea as trial approaches

Also in court on Tuesday was the man accused of collaborating with Royer in murdering Khaleesi, 30-year-old Travis Brown, WMRA reports. He pleaded guilty to all eight felonies.

Both he and Royer been charged with aggravated murder, felony murder, unlawfully concealing a dead body, conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, conspiracy to commit child abuse, and conspiracy to conceal a dead body, WMRA says.

If convicted, WMRA adds that Brown has chosen to have the judge choose his sentence.

Judge Shannon Sherrill tended to two motions presenting before her during the hearing, WMRA adds. Brown’s attorney, Dana Cormier, argued that four conversations between Brown and Royer via text and social media messages were nothing more than hearsay.

In one of the messages, Royer tells Brown: “I hope you rot in hell. … Do you lie in bed at night thinking about what you did to that little girl?”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Meador revealed that the message had been sent months after Khaleesi was already dead, and that Royer would throw the accusations at Brown when she was mad at him for being with other women, WMRA says.

Judge Sherill ruled that the messages are admissible, WMRA adds, though has yet to rule on the other matter regarding which prior bad acts can be presenting during the trial. The judge added that during the trial, witnesses and civilians attending wouldn’t be permitted to wear or carry any customized apparel or banners with Khaleesi’s name or photo.

Where is Khaleesi?

Amanda Avery was a single mother struggling with a relentless addiction who entrusted the care of her toddler to a friend upon going to prison, only to learn of a most unforgivable betrayal, MEAWW reported previously.

During a two-year sentence for probation violations, she left her daughter, Khaleesi, with Royer and Brown to be taken care of, MEAWW says.

At first, Avery communicated with the Royer from prison, MEAWW notes. When months went by during which Avery couldn’t get a hold of Royer or Brown, and after seeing Royer reported missing on the news in September 2021, jail officials permitted Avery to call Augusta County Sheriff Don Smith.

Smith learned that Avery’s family hadn’t actually seen Khaleesi since January 2020, MEAWW says. He discovered that Royer wasn’t missing after all. She and Brown had gone on a crime spree that involved stealing a car, passing bad checks, and other drug-related offenses, according to the Inside Edition.

He also found that Brown had been wanted in Virginia since August 2021 for a variety of violent crimes, the Inside Edition says.

Royer had told Avery’s family that Khaleesi was with other family members, and then finally, claimed that the toddler had been picked up by Virginia Child Protective Services, the Inside Edition says.

Police and the U.S. Marshalls arrested Royer and Brown on Sept. 12, 2021 at a Pennsylvania motel, the Inside Edition reports. Inside their room, police allegedly found methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, and stolen checks.

“Khaleesi is nowhere to be found,” Smith said of the arrests.

After the couple was in custody, Smith released a public statement and told Inside Edition he believed he knew the fate of the girl.
Khaleesi CuthriellPhoto byAugusta County Sheriff's Department

“I can confirm that Khaleesi is not alive. I can confirm to you that she died at the address where Royer and Brown resided,” he said.

He is keeping details of the investigation quiet, but hasn’t given up the search for Khaleesi, the Inside Edition says.

Smith accused CPS of not even trying to find the missing toddler, the Inside Edition says, though CPS declined to speak to the press. He noted that Brown and Royer weren’t the only ones who failed Khaleesi.

“Frankly, the system failed this kid in every way,” he said. “From the caretakers, to social services, to the courts, to the people around Royer and Brown.”

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Long time true crime lover and blogger who has spent years reading and studying criminal psychology. I also write mystery fiction books, and have a diploma in journalism.


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