‘Capital murder’ in 2-year-old’s death

Prosecutor doesn’t see death penalty attempt in case
Reporter Editor

Exactly two weeks after she was arrested by Rockdale police and charged with causing the death of two-year-old Alexandria “Alex” Hill, a girl in her foster care, Sherill A. Small has been indicted for capital murder by a Milam County Grand Jury.

The indictment was handed down Thursday, according to Prosecutor Bill Torrey. While capital murder can carry the death penalty, Torrey told The Reporter he doesn’t see it being pursued in this case.

“I doubt seriously if there will be an attempt to seek the death penalty,” he said.

A capital murder indictment is possible only in specific circumstances in Texas, one of which is the murder of an individual under the age of six. (Texas Penal Code, Section 19:03.)

Torrey pointed out, assuming the death penalty is not sought, only one punishment could be handed down.

“If you waive the death penalty and convict for capital murder there is no punishment phase,” he said. “The judge automatically assesses life without parole.”

Torrey said he plans to ask District Judge John Youngblood to start Small’s trial in February.

HUSBAND—While Clemon Small, husband of Sherill, has not been charged in connection with the incident, Torrey plans to call him before another grand jury on Sept. 12.

Torrey said his investigation into the child’s death has not yet concluded.

Clemon Small has several misdemeanor convictions from a decade ago. Rockdale police couldn’t comment on his record, since he has not been charged with any crime in connection with the child’s death.

Lt. J. D. Newlin said Clemon Small was interviewed during the investigation.

NewlinsaidClemonSmalltoldpolicehehada7p.m. meeting at a Rockdale restaurant, almost exactly the time the incident was believed to have occurred, and the restaurant’s video surveillance shows him entering the establishment at 7:02.

“ The v ideo shows he only stayed three minutes,” Newlin said. “He gets a call, which he said was the one from his wife informing him what had happened at home, and leaves the restaurant at 7:05.”

Newlin said unless “something new happens” Clemon Small will not be charged in connection with the child’s death.

DEATH— Sherill Small, 54, turned herself in and was charged with murder Aug. 1, the day after the child died in a Temple hospital and three days after the incident at the San Jacinto Street home where the Smalls were making their living.

Newlin said an autopsy showed Alexandria Hill was mortally injured by a blow to the head.

Newlin said Small first told police the child was “running backwards, fell and hurt herself.” He said after police didn’t buy that version of events, Small produced a different story.

“She said she was playing a game, holding Alex up over her head, swinging her down almost to the floor, then swinging her back up,” Newlin said.

“She told us she did it once, twice and then on the third time lost her grip and the child hit the floor,” he said.

Newlin said autopsy records also showed the child received a bruise to the right side of her face and had a lacerated liver.”

BACKGROUND— In the firestorm of publicity following the death, questions have arisen over background checking by Texas Mentor, which contracts with the state to place children in foster homes.

Texas Mentor provides health care and social services in 34 states.

Texas Mentor’s practices are being investigated by Residential Child Care Licensing.

TRIALS—Unless there is one or more successful change of venue motions filed and granted, Milam County will become the site of three capital murder trials, including Small’s.

The trial of Brandon Charles Cotton, charged with the shotgun slaying of 50-year- old Sandra “Sandy” Phillips of San Gabriel on A pril 25, 2011, is set to start Oct. 15.

No trial date has been set for Tanner Aaron Baker, also charged with Mrs. Phillips’ murder.

The death penalty is being sought for Cotton, while Baker faces a possible penalty of life without parole.

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