Justice for ‘Cupcake’ McKinney: Jury returns guilty verdict

Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 12:56 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2022 at 12:45 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Testimony is underway in the federal kidnapping trial involving Derick Brown, one of the defendants accused in 2019 disappearance and death of 3-year-old Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney. Brown is charged with kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap a minor. The defense team elected to move the trial from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa to avoid potential juror bias.

Brown’s co-defendant, Patrick Stallworth was convicted on the same counts in October 2022. He faces an automatic life sentence. Both will stand trial for capital murder in state court where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Day 4: Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 - verdict

A federal jury found Derick Brown guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap a minor. It also found McKinney’s kidnapping resulted in her death, which is an automatic life sentence. The jury returned a verdict in one hour and 16 minutes.

Day 4: Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 - noon update:

Attorneys gave closing arguments Thursday morning, making their final plea to the jury prior to deliberations.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Blake Milner stressed Brown and her co-defendant Patrick Stallworth had a plan to kidnap a child, which was executed Oct. 12, 2019.

Milner referenced videos the jury saw of Brown, first lying to police and later sharing what happened to Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney and where her body could be recovered.

“Due to this defendant, she’s gone,” Milner affirmed. “It’s time for someone to answer to that, it’s time to give that baby rest.”

Milner reminded the jury that Brown told police things only a kidnapper would, describing the drugs that would be found in McKinney’s body. He also highlighted they would never specifically know what happened to the child after she was taken to Brown’s apartment.

“The defendant knows exactly what happened to her body,” Milner stated. “She stripped her body of all humanity, removed her clothes, her hair bowties and took her to the dumpster. It was too tall to lift the child up so they had to walk up, look down and drop her.”

The defense combatted that narrative, circling back to their opening statements to the jury, reminding them Brown was simply “minding her own business.”

“This man is a monster, he’s an absolute monster,” affirmed Defense Attorney Kevin Butler, while showing a picture of Stallworth. “He kidnapped and killed Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney.”

Butler reminded the jury that Brown didn’t have a driver’s license and she spent the day in the car traveling all the places Stallworth wanted to go. Butler refuted the government’s assertion that Brown and Stallworth went to Tom Brown Village to kidnap a child, noting no one knew a child’s birthday party would be happening outside.

“You can’t plan a spontaneous event, there was no plan here,” Butler said in reference to the conspiracy charge against Brown.

“Why was he was [at Tom Brown Village],” questioned Butler. “We all know why he was there, he’s a drug dealer. This is when and where he could sell: Low income housing - a prime opportunity.”

Butler continued to point to Stallworth’s involvement, referencing his prescription for Trazodone and testimony of his meth sales, both substances that were found in McKinney’s system.

The defense concluded by assuring the jury the government didn’t meet their burden of proof in this case.

“Everyone should be furious about her lack of interaction,” Butler said of Brown’s inaction the night of the kidnapping. “She did not intervene to help this child, but you are not here to judge her on her lack of action.”

Assistant United States Attorney, Lloyd Peeples, who leads the U.S. Attorney’s Criminal Division, spoke to the jury last, pointing them back to the defendant and her alleged role in McKinney’s disappearance and death.

“[Brown] knew about the body, she knew what was in those dumpsters,” Peeples reminded the jury. “She didn’t know that because she was minding her own business, she knew it because she was there and she saw it.”

The government refuted the defense’s notion that Stallworth was the only guilty party in this incident.

“She didn’t find one monster, she found two,” argued Peeples. “It’s now time for you to find justice and to find that defendant guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.”

Day 3: Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022 - final update:

Derick Brown expressed interest in testifying in her own defense, taking the stand as the last witness in this trial. U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler asked her directly whether she wanted to take the stand and reminded her it was her decision, not her attorneys.

Brown met with her attorneys in the courtroom outside the presence of the jury. The court took up other business and then asked Brown again about her intentions of testifying. Brown appeared conflicted and Coogler encouraged her to speak with her attorneys again. At this point Brown’s state attorneys involved the capital murder case were also weighing in on her decision. Ultimately Brown decided against taking the stand and the defense rested shortly before 5 p.m.

The prosecution rested Wednesday afternoon. Before then, the jury heard from several expert witnesses who explained how law enforcement used cell phone records to track Brown and her co-defendant Patrick Stallworth’s movements before and after McKinney was abducted.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Daniel Dye conducted McKinney’s autopsy. He explained McKinney had multiple injuries and skin abrasions. McKinney was killed at least a week before her body was found. Dye said it was a challenging examination due to the time that had passed since the child died and the conditions her body was exposed to.

“The body was in what we define as the bloating stage of decomposition,” said Dr. Dye.

“Were you able to identify any injuries on her body,” asked the prosecution,

“Yes sir,” said Dr. Dye.

Dye pointed out several injuries on Cupcake’s body, and ruled the cause of death in this case to be asphyxia, or suffocation.

The jury saw a handful of the autopsy photos but they will not be shown to the public.

Another expert witness confirmed McKinney’s DNA was found inside Brown and Stallworth’s apartment.

The jury also heard jail phone recordings between Brown and Stallwroth’s aunt, Alecia Price, a former Birmingham Police Officer.

Price was undeterred by Brown’s plea for help. The prosecution worked to show Brown was not concerned about finding McKinney.

“If you don’t know where the child is I don’t want to talk about nothing else,” Price told Brown. “I am not concerned about all this other stuff.”

The government used their last witness, FBI Agent Cynthia Bobe, to tie Brown to the McKinney’s body. During Brown’s final interview with police, she described the construction dumpster where McKinney could be found. Prosecutors then showed the jury a picture of the landfill where McKinney’s body was recovered. Jurors could see items Brown described near the body.

The defense called an IT expert and three Birmingham Police Officers to question the caliber of the government’s investigation.

Closing arguments are slated for Thursday at 9 a.m.

Day 2: Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 - final update:

Warning: Information in this story could be triggering for some readers.

During day two of the trial, prosecutors worked to put Derick Brown at the center of the kidnapping. The jury heard from eyewitnesses who saw Brown with Patrick Stallworth, her co-defendant and then-boyfriend, both before and after the time Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney was abducted.

The government also took the jury inside the interrogation room at Birmingham Police Headquarters, playing videos of Brown’s interviews with law enforcement.

Brown spoke with police four times over the course of the investigation. During the first three, she denied knowing anything about McKinney’s disappearance. Brown attempted to distance herself, stating she was high on meth at the time she and Stallworth drove through Tom Brown Village, the place where McKinney was kidnapped.

During the fourth interview, Brown admitted to seeing McKinney at her apartment.

“[Patrick Stallworth] woke me up to go get gas and [McKinney] just popped up,” Brown told police.

Investigators pressed Brown on the details; after wrangling over the timeline Brown revealed she woke up and saw McKinney on the loveseat in her living room.

“Are you sure it was her,” an investigator asked. “Yes, I freaked out,” Brown responded.

Brown explained Stallworth was fully undressed and kneeling on the couch, sexually assaulting the child. Later, Brown said Stallworth walked out of the house with a garbage bad with a small pink shirt hanging out of the top. McKinney was last seen in a pink Minnie Mouse t-shirt.

A video showed Birmingham Police Sergeant Talana Brown sitting across the table from Derick Brown during the final interview. She made a clarion call for her to give up McKinney’s location.

“You left her out there to fend for herself,” Talana Brown stated. “I can’t believe you are a mother with kids and wouldn’t do anything to stop it. You could have done more to protect this baby.”

Brown continued to urge Derick Brown to come forward with the information.

“You didn’t help her while she was alive, now help her since she’s dead.”

Brown told them to check the construction dumpster adjacent to her apartment, where McKinney’s body was ultimately recovered.

Eyewitness Interviews

A teenager took the stand Tuesday morning, explaining she was stopped by Brown and Stallworth while walking home from cheer practice at Hayes K-8, hours before McKinney was kidnapped. The student, who was 11 at the time of the incident, said a blue SUV stopped and the people inside asked her if she knew someone they were searching for and the driver offered her candy. She identified the driver as Stallworth and Brown as the passenger.

“[Brown] said the girl we are looking for looks just like you,” she recalled. The witness said the situation scared her and she and her friend quickly ran away.

Brown and Stallworth caught the eye of Shantanya Osborne later that day. Osborne may have been the last person to see both defendants before they drove to Tom Brown Village.

Osborne testified that she saw a blue SUV parked in her cul-de-sac where children were playing outside. After 15 minutes she approached the car and asked what they were doing. Coincidentally Brown said she previously lived in Osborne’s apartment and asked her what happened to all the children who used to play outside.

“She said there used to be some beautiful little mixed girls who played outside,” Osborne explained, referencing her next door neighbors.

FBI Agent Jonathan Spaeth recovered a neighbor’s surveillance video that showed a man walking up to two toddlers at Tom Brown Village the night of the kidnapping. Spaeth said based on what he knows, the video shows Stallworth talking to McKinney and her friend. The defense pushed back, questioning whether he was positive the man in the video was Stallworth. Spaeth said the clothing and the man in the video fits the description of other videos seen of Stallworth throughout the day.

The jury also heard from two neighbors, Derick and Deborah Douglas who lived near Brown and Stallworth at the time of the kidnapping.

Derick Douglas said he saw Stallworth’s picture associated with the amber alert.

“When I saw him I tried to play it off, then he asked if I had seen the news,” Douglas explained. “I said do you have the baby in the house and he looked down at his hands like he was holding a baby and [Stallworth] said, ‘What am I going to do with a baby?’’

Both Deborah and Derick said they saw Brown sitting in the car, noting she looked anxious.

“Derick Brown was sitting in the passenger seat and looked frantic,”, Deborah stated. “The truck was parked differently than usual, it was backed in versus parked forward.”

Day two was the most challenging day so far for the jury. Late Tuesday afternoon they viewed pictures of McKinney’s body after she was recovered in the landfill. The pictures were so graphic only the jury was allowed to see them, each picture was only shown about three seconds at a time. Some jurors were visibly shaken and elected to take a short break afterward.

We expect the government to transition to expert witnesses during day three of the trial; the prosecution could rest Wednesday.

Day 1: Monday, Nov 14, 2022 - final update:

A majority-male jury was seated Monday, shortly after noon. During opening statements, Assistant United States Attorney Brittany Byrd told the jury the defendants used candy to lure Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney from Tom Brown Village in Birmingham where she was visiting her cousins.

“She needed help, she needed rescuing - but she was killed and thrown away,” Byrd stated.

Byrd promised the jury they would hear from several expert witnesses who would explain how McKinney died, the drugs in her system at the time of her death and the DNA evidence police lifted from Brown’s apartment that she shared with Stallworth.

Defense attorney Robin Robertson pushed back against the idea that Brown had a role in McKinney’s abduction. She retraced Brown’s day, which was spent with Stallworth. At multiple points, Robertson explained what Stallworth was doing and emphasized, Brown was ‘minding her own business’.

By the time Stallworth and Brown arrived at Tom Brown Village, Robertson said Brown was on meth and wasn’t feeling well. She remained in the car when Stallworth parked and stepped away.

“Patrick Stallworth sold drugs, she knew better than to ask questions,” Robertson explained. “Patrick alone lured one of those little girls back to the car.”

McKinney’s mother, April Thomas was the government’s first witness. Thomas tearfully walked the jury through her last day with Cupcake. Thomas and her children were visiting their cousins at Tom Brown Village. She said Cupcake and the other children were playing outside. When it was time to go, no one could find Cupcake.

“I noticed her shoes were in the backyard, that’s when I knew something was wrong,” said Thomas.

Thomas’s cousin Shenita Long, the family member they were visiting in Tom Brown Village also testified about that night. Her daughter Ava was McKinney’s best friend and was with McKinney when she was lured away by a man to go get candy.

The trial is expected to last at least one week.

Day 1: Monday, Nov 14, 2022 - morning update:

The second federal trial is underway for another defendant accused in the 2019 disappearance and death of three-year-old Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney.

This week Derick Brown will stand trial on two federal kidnapping counts. Brown was granted a change of venue, moving the trial from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa in an effort to avoid juror bias. This move allows the clerk to summon jurors outside Jefferson County.

In October, Brown’s co-defendant Patrick Stallworth was convicted of kidnapping that resulted in the death of a minor and conspiracy to kidnap a minor. Stallworth faces an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole. His sentencing is slated for early 2023.

Both Brown and Stallworth will be tried on state capital murder counts after the federal cases are adjudicated; the state is seeking the death penalty.

Three-year-old Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney was abducted from Tom Brown Village in October 2019, her body recovered in a Birmingham landfill a week later.

During Stallworth’s trial, the jury heard from more than 40 witnesses and viewed around 100 exhibits. Testimony indicated Stallworth and Brown lured McKinney away from Tom Brown Village with candy. The jury watched videos of Stallworth’s interviews with Birmingham Police where he explained Brown suffocated McKinney at their apartment, covering her nose and mouth until she stopped breathing. DNA extracted from a plastic mattress cover in their apartment matched McKinney’s DNA profile.

Read WBRC’s blog chronicling Stallworth’s trial here.