At first, Iowa mom Kelsie Thomas told investigators that her 5-year-old daughter had accidentally hanged herself with her pajama pants while making a swing in her closet.
Later, Thomas allegedly admitted to killing Cloe Chandler, who had graduated two months earlier from pre-school and "loved riding her bike, sticker books, sunflowers and everything purple," according to the child's online obituary.
But jurors who considered a first-degree murder charge in the July 2018 incident failed to reach a verdict last March in what the medical examiner concluded was a homicide by "ligature strangulation," reports Des Moines TV station WHO13.
On Tuesday, the prosecution and defense both rested their case in a retrial of Thomas that will be settled not by a jury, but by a judge in a bench trial requested by the suspect, according to KTVO.
Both sides have until Nov. 3 to submit written closing arguments before the judge renders a verdict.
The murder charge against Thomas, of Ottumwa, followed her July 26, 2018, arrest after she allegedly admitted to officers that she killed her daughter, according to a news release from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, reports the Des Moines Register.
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Officers summoned by a 911 call to the family home seven days earlier, on July 19, had found the child unresponsive, and she was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Officer Michael Sieren testified during the retrial that the mother's account and her behavior after her daughter's death both raised questions.
“Ms. Thomas, through this walk-through, it did strike me as off that there really wasn’t any emotion involved in this, at this point, we were less than 24 hours from the death of her daughter," Sieren said, reports KTVO. "And there really wasn’t any emotion involved with this, essentially walking officers and investigators through how she found her daughter dead.”
The medical examiner, Dr. Michele Catellier, testified that trauma to the child's neck indicated a "struggling force" inconsistent with an accident, according to the outlet.
But an expert witness for Thomas' defense, forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Young, countered, "There’s no account of a manual strangulation here,” KTVO reports. “And it’s not even clear here from her second confession of anything here that really makes any sort of sense for a manual strangulation.”
Thomas, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
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