Khaleesi Cuthriell Case: Accused Todder Killer Pleads Guilty to Torture Murder of 3-Year-Old
Candi Jo Royer, one of two caregivers charged with killing toddler Khaleesi Cuthriell, pleads guilty to first-degree murder in the child's torture death. Royer's live-in boyfriend was convicted of aggravated murder last month.
A Virginia woman who was a caretaker for missing toddler Khaleesi Cuthriell has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the torture killing of the 3-year-old who was beaten, burned and starved, prosecutors said.
The surprise admission occurred Wednesday in Augusta County Circuit, during the arraignment of Candi Jo Royer, 43, whose murder trial for the child's horrific death was scheduled to begin next month.
Her live-in boyfriend, 31-year-old Travis Brown, was convicted in August of aggravated murder, which carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Testimony at Brown's trial was gut-wrenching. Jurors heard and saw graphic photos and videos of the child in which she was seen with bruises, burn marks and large chunks of her hair missing.
In one video seized by investigators in the case, Khaleesi is seen in a dry bathtub, surrounded by her own feces and barely able to stand as Royer is heard berating her.
The child is naked in the video, and visibly shaking. Prosecutors said the video was taken on Jan. 12, 2021, which may have been the day she died, they told the court.
In another video, taken one month after the little girl came to live with the couple in October 2020, Khaleesi is seen looking solemn as Royer and Brown are heard telling her they may kick her out before Christmas. "Nobody likes you, Khaleesi," Royer is heard saying.
"Over the ensuing three months, they tortured her to death," Augusta County prosecutor Tim Martin Wednesday in court.
Royer pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and cruelty with intent to injure a child. In return for her pleas, six other charges against her were dropped, authorities said.
She faces 20 years to life in prison at her sentencing hearing scheduled for Feb. 22. Brown's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8.
"This agreement made it so that Khaleesi's family will not have to re-live the horror of what happened to her, and it gives us a clear path to each of these defendants never walking free again," Martin said Wednesday.
The little girl was reported missing in September 2021, by her incarcerated mother, Amanda Arey, who told jail guards and authorities that she had entrusted Khaleesi's care to Royer, who was a friend.
The alarmed mother told guards she had seen a news reports on the prison television saying Royer had been reported missing by her family.
Arey said she had been afraid for months because she couldn't reach the couple.
"The mother was talking to Royer and Brown from the jail," Augusta County Sheriff Don Smith told Inside Edition Digital last year. But, "they stopped communicating with her, stopped taking her calls, stopped taking her text messages. Everything went black."
Royer, however, was not missing, it turned out. She and Brown were on the run for a series of crimes including stealing a car, passing bad checks and drug violations, authorities said.
The couple was arrested at a motel in Pennsylvania on Sept. 12, 2021 by state police and members of the U.S. Marshal's Office. Meth, drug paraphernalia and stolen checks were found in their room but there was no sign of Khaleesi, police said.
Both pleaded guilty to all charges against them in Pennsylvania, including possession of methamphetamine and stolen checks. They were sentenced to two months to one year in prison, and extradited to Virginia, where child abuse charges had been filed against them involving Khaleesi.
The couple was indicted on murder charges in May 2022.
Despite extensive searches, the child's remains were not found.
During his August trial, prosecutors played a videotaped interview with Brown, in which he claimed the 3-year-old killed herself by slamming her head into a door frame.
"It's what she did, man," Brown was seen telling two investigators from the Augusta County Sheriff's Office.
Brown, an admitted meth user with a string of drug-related convictions, also told deputies Khaleesi was suicidal, possessed, and "liked to be smacked."
He said the toddler was sexually aware, masturbated and was prone to falling.
After Khaleesi struck her head, she died on the floor of the couple's home, Brown told the deputies. The next day, he dumped her body in the trash, he said.
Prosecutor Martin said Wednesday he'd never witnessed “anything that approached this level of horror.”
Authorities are still searching for Khaleesi's body. “We will never stop trying to find her," Martin told the court.
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