Two weeks after her ex-boyfriend was convicted of killing the toddler in their care, Candi Royer has pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Khaleesi Cuthriell, according to WHSV.
On Sept. 13, 2023, Royer entered a guilty plea in exchange for the prosecution to drop the charges of child abuse causing serious injury, aggravated murder, concealing a dead body, and homicide, WHSV says. She pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, which carries an automatic sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
Royer and her ex-boyfriend, Travis Brown, took three-year-old Khaleesi into their care when the child’s mother, Amanda Arey, was sent to prison in October 2020, WHSV says. In September 2021, Khaleesi and Royer were reported missing after Arey spent months trying to get a hold of Royer and Brown to check on her daughter.
It turns out, Royer wasn’t missing — she and Brown were on a crime spree, and little Khaleesi was nowhere to be found, the News Virginian previously reported.
Despite the extensive searches for Khaleesi, whose remains have never been found, prosecutors believe she was dead in January 2021, WHSV says.
Brown was convicted after a jury deliberated for about four hours before returning a guilty verdict, WHSV reports. 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, since no DNA was available from the toddler, 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.
A child abuse expert who testified at Brown’s trial said that his treatment of Khaleesi wasn’t only abuse — it was flat out child torture, WHSV says.
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.
WHSV reports that Brown will face sentencing on February 8, 2024, with Royer’s sentencing to follow on February 22.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin said the plea deal means the two will never see freedom again, WHSV says.
“There are always risks inherent in trying a case. There’s always a risk of loss. This agreement made it so Khaleesi’s family will not have to relive the horror of what happened to her and it gives us a clear path to each of these defendants never walking free again,” he said.
As for Khaleesi, Martin added that the search isn’t over.
“We will never stop trying to find her,” he said.