Months before anyone knew Khaleesi Cuthriell was dead, or even knew the terrors she suffered at the hands of her caretakers while her mother was in prison, time ran out; she was dead, prosecutors say. On Aug. 30, 2023, one of those caretakers was convicted of the toddler’s murder, WHSV reports.
A jury deliberated for only four hours before finding Travis Brown, 30, guilty of child abuse causing serious injury, aggravated murder and felony homicide for the death of Khaleesi Cuthriell, who’s remains have never been found, WHSV says.
The jury spent part of the first two days of the trial watching via photo and video evidence as a once vibrant, blonde-haired little girl deteriorated into a sullen, frail, and thin child who spoke very little and wouldn’t make eye contact with people or cameras, WHSV says. They also watched part of Brown’s Sept. 19, 2021 interrogation in which he claims “I would never hurt a little girl, man.”
His protests didn’t convince the jury, however. WHSV reports that forensic evidence found during the execution of a search warrant on Brown’s Cattle Scales Road property in Augusta County, Virginia, turned up three drops of blood on the wall that were found to belong to Khaleesi, according to the testimony of Nicole Harold with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. One such splatter was six feet off the floor.
Harold added that the DNA sample was a mix of Khaleesi’s parents, Amanda Arey and Ted Cuthriell, since no DNA was available from the toddler and she is still missing, WHSV says. Harold also described hair found in electrical tape that had been wound around a wire coat hanger, and noted the hair was consistent with the previous sample. Royer’s DNA was also on that hanger, Harold said.
During that search, Virginia State Police Special Agent AJ Wouters observed during the Sept. 20, 2021 search that the door to Khaleesi’s bedroom was on backwards, enabling someone to lock it from the outside instead from within the room, WHSV says. No other doorknob in the home was installed like this, he said, and he had other photos to prove it.
The prosecution also summoned Dr. Robin Foster, an expert on child abuse and torture from Virginia Commonwealth University, to speak on Brown’s claim that Khaleesi killed herself, WHSV says.
Law & Crime reports that in the 2021 interrogation, Brown claimed Khaleesi had died after ramming her head intentionally into a doorframe. He finally told officers with the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) that after she killed herself, he wrapped her body in a blanket and put her in the household trash in a panic.
Brown called Khaleesi “possessed” and claimed “she fell and smacked her f****** head all the time,” the News Virginian says.
According to Law & Crime, he also told investigators in that same interrogation: “I might have lost my temper and smacked her. She liked to be smacked.”
“We did anything any good Christian person would do to help this little girl,” Brown also told investigators, Law & Crime says.
Foster disagreed with Brown’s account, and said she didn’t believe this was the cause of any fall, WHSV says. She also analyzed the various photos displaying the horrific abuse Khaleesi endured. She said Khaleesi didn’t face only abuse - what Brown did to her was child torture any adult in the home would have been aware of.
The News Virginian noted that Foster told the court Khaleesi’s life could have been saved had someone sought medical help for her.
Brown’s defense attorney, Dana Cormier, stated that the wire hanger proves that Royer harmed Khalessi, not Brown, the News Virginian says. Cormier also pointed to the videos of Royer berating and humiliating Khaleesi as further proof that Royer was the one harming Khaleesi.
Cormier told the court that Brown is a “dope addict and a thief. We know that. You don’t have to like Travis Brown. We know he was lying in Pennsylvania.”
He added that the prosecution “wants you to take emotion and convict. You can’t do that. Emotion and suspicion are not enough.”
A mother’s desperation leads to an unthinkable loss
Prosecutors call the decision to place Khaleesi with Brown and Royer a panicked one, and Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin discussed how the placement came to be in his opening arguments, WHSV explains.
Arey was arrested on Oct. 20, 2020 over a parole violation, and said she hadn’t turned herself in because she didn’t know where Khaleesi would go, Martin told the court. Arey lived with Ted Cuthriell, but Child Protective Services (CPS) said Khaleesi could not remain in the home with her father while Arey was incarcerated.
Arey’s sister lived in Covington, but CPS said Khaleesi also couldn’t go there due to an open CPS claim, WHSV says. The claim stemmed from the fact that Arey’s sister had taken in her stepchildren.
Arey then suggested Royer and Brown as caretakers for Khaleesi, to which CPS agreed, WHSV says. Royer was a mother to her own three-year-old child and had babysat Khaleesi in the past. But since Royer was on house arrest, a CPS worker, Samantha Castelvecchi, took Khaleesi to the Cattle Scales Road property after signing off on the agreement.
Martin questioned Castelvecchi as to whether she ever checked up on the little girl, WHSV says.
“I attempted to,” Castelvecchi said, though Law & Crime reports she admitted she never did. She added that she knew Royer was on house arrest, but didn’t know Royer lived with Brown.
That decision, Martin said in closing arguments, would lead to the disturbing torture and death of Khaleesi in the months to follow, WHSV says. Brown and Royer, who were supposed to care for the little girl, instead did the unfathomable.
“Travis Brown and his girlfriend tortured Khaleesi to death,” Martin said. “He threw her away. She was somebody’s baby, and once he was done with her he threw her away.”
“He thought hiding her would make you believe she was still alive,” Martin added.
After the verdict was announced, Arey cried and hugged Martin, the News Virginian reports.
Upon learning his fate, Brown showed little emotion, the News Virginian says. He was sent back to the Middle River Regional Jail in Verona.
“This is the verdict we wanted,” Martin said, adding that the two years of investigating and searching for Khaleesi had taken a toll on everyone involved, the News Virginian reports.
Candi Royer will face her trial beginning Oct. 16, 2023, the News Virginia adds. Brown will be sentenced to the mandatory life term on Feb. 8, 2024.