A Nevada man charged with the brutal beating death of his 3-year-old daughter could face the death penalty.
Prosecutors are reportedly seeking capital punishment for Justin Tom Bennett, 23, who was arrested in July after his young daughter Abygaile died from injuries sustained after he punched her in the chest. An autopsy determined that the right atrium of her heart had been torn from blunt-force trauma to the chest, according to a report summary given to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
A subsequent investigation found evidence that Bennett had repeatedly abused his daughters. Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacqueline Bluth told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that in the 36 hours before she died, Abygaile had suffered three broken ribs and a broken back. Child Protective Services had visited the home seven months prior to Abygaile’s death in response to a mutual complaint by both parents, accusing each other of harsh discipline of Abygaile and her older sister. Although the investigation revealed that the girls’ father had punished them by giving them cold showers and forcing mustard into their mouths, Child Protective Services determined there was no immediate danger to the children.
The girls mother, Korie Morimoto, appears to have been concerned about Bennett’s abuse, and reportedly surreptitiously recorded some of his extreme discipline, apparently intending to bring it to authorities. But she has been charged with multiple counts of allowing child abuse or neglect. She and her surviving daughters, including a third daughter who was 2 at the time of Abygaile’s death, provided investigators with more details about Bennett’s alleged abuse — including disciplining the older girls by forcing them to do “wall sits” with their backs and backsides pressed up against the wall, and beating them if they fell over or cried.
Nevada has not executed a felon since 2006.