Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Custodial dad, step to go to trial for murder of 11-year-old daughter (Sarasota, Florida)

The custodial dad is identified as KENNETH STODDARD. He had gained custody of the girl just 6 months or so before her torture death.

Trials in autistic girl's death not likely this year

Melissa Stoddard, 11, died from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Her father and stepmother will be tried in her death.

By Gabrielle Russon Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:51 p.m. Last Modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:51 p.m.

SARASOTA - Misty and Kenneth Stoddard, the caretakers of an 11-year-old autistic child who died in December, will not likely stand trial this year.

Melissa Stoddard, an Oak Park student, died from lack of oxygen to the brain after she had been tied to a board and gagged. Her body was covered with bruises in what was one of the worst cases of child abuses that local authorities have seen. 

 During a Tuesday court hearing, Circuit Court Judge Frederick Mercurio did not set a trial date, but said he hopes the hefty case — one with at least 60 witnesses and 1,700 pages of court discovery documents — will begin in early 2014.

Misty Stoddard, who is Melissa's stepmother, is accused of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse with great bodily harm. Melissa's biological father, Kenneth Stoddard, who is out on bail, has been charged with aggravated child abuse with great bodily harm. Misty Stoddard, 36, who appeared Tuesday with short, dark hair, has been an inmate at the county jail since Dec. 20.

“I won't say she's been in a hurry . . . but she'd like to get this case resolved sooner than later,” the judge said during the short case-management hearing.

Misty Stoddard's defense team asked for her trial to follow Kenneth Stoddard's trial.

“We believe his testimony will be critical,” said attorney Mark Brewer.

But Prosecutor Karen Fraivillig said she has no intention of making a plea deal with Kenneth Stoddard or using him as a witness. 

The state determines which trial goes first, she added. “It's my call.”

Surveillance video captured Kenneth Stoddard buying Velcro straps, boards and duct tape, which authorities believe was used to restrain Melissa, according to an investigative report from the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

The next step is for witnesses — including two of Misty Stoddard's children — to testify in depositions. Mercurio asked the attorneys to meet again about November to give an update on the case.
This month, the Department of Children and Families released the investigation report into Melissa's death that showed she had been sexually abused by her brother back in North Carolina.

Last summer, she moved to Sarasota County to live with her father, her stepmother, who was pregnant, and their blended family of five children.

Her life in Sarasota was tumultuous.

A neighbor heard loud yelling and screaming coming from the back of the Stoddards' rural Sarasota County house at 9021 Delft Road. The sounds were of a child's cries and an adult woman yelling and slaps, he told authorities in the sheriff's report.

School officials were also worried about Melissa, according to the DCF report.

The special-needs child repeated phrases, such as “Get out of my house,” which her teacher thought she was mimicking from home. She was absent from school for long periods of time so the Oak Park staff would not see her bruises, according to authorities.

Misty Stoddard discovered the girl was not breathing in her bedroom, and Melissa was taken to a hospital Dec. 12 and died five days later.

Melissa's medical evaluation report had said she was tied to a board, which caused wounds and bruises on her body as she struggled to free herself from Velcro, straps and tape.