CRIME

Mother charged in abuse death of 3-year-old says she was threatened into taking plea deal

Nov 9, 2022, 4:05 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 5:32 pm
Brenda Emile 110922...
Brenda Emile and her attorney, Jason Widdison, listen as her second attorney, Martin Gravis, addresses Judge Michael DiReda during a preliminary hearing 2018, in 2nd District Court in Ogden. Emile and Miller Costello have been charged with aggravated murder in the death of their 3-year-old daughter. (Sarah Welliver)
(Sarah Welliver)

OGDEN, Utah — A mother charged with aggravated homicide in the malnourishment death of her 3-year-old daughter says she was threatened that she would have to “bury another kid” if she didn’t accept a plea deal according to a story published on KSL.com.

Portions of phone calls made while Brenda Emile, 28, was in jail will be translated from Romanian in order to investigate the claim, a judge ordered Tuesday.

Emile told 2nd District Court Judge Michael DiReda that prior to pleading guilty in August to aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, she received threats against her son during phone calls with family members.

“I’m just letting it be known … it was because my son was threatened,” Emile said in court as she made a case to withdraw her plea. “I lost a kid already.”

When asked why she didn’t bring up the issue in August during the guilty plea colloquy — which specifically asks defendants if they’re being threatened or coerced in any way to accept the deal — Emile said, “My son’s life was more important than mine.”

“Is his life not important now?” DiReda asked her.

His life is still important, Emile answered, but since entering the guilty plea, she’s received assurance that her kids are safe.

“You’ll find (the threats) in the phone calls,” she said.

But prosecutor Letitia Toombs said her team has combed through Emile’s jail phone calls and found no evidence of any threats made against Emile or her kids.

“This was, frankly, a recent fabrication,” she said.

Defense attorney Martin Gavis agreed that no threats were found in the English-language portions of the phone calls and said Emile’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea was filed before his team received access to the calls. He said parts of the conversations were held in Romanian.

Toombs contended the Romanian portions of the calls are “very brief” and that nothing contextual, such as tone of voice, indicates any threats were made.

Emile became agitated as DiReda and the attorneys began discussing where to find a translator and how long the translation process would take.

“I’ll take the plea, your Honor,” she said. “I don’t want to withdraw (the guilty plea) if it’s going to be this hard. … I don’t want to do it no more. It’s my decision.”

DiReda asked Emile to step out of the courtroom with her attorneys to discuss her options. When they returned, defense attorney Jason Widdison said Emile no longer wanted to withdraw her guilty plea.

But DiReda said Emile had raised serious allegations about the safety of her children and about the circumstances under which she accepted the guilty plea. He asked that the phone calls be translated, “time-inefficient as it may be,” in order to avoid any doubt about how willingly she pleaded guilty.

The phone call translations will be discussed at Emile’s next hearing, scheduled for Dec. 12.

Emile’s sentencing was delayed Oct. 18 when, right before the proceedings began, she asked to withdraw her guilty plea. She initially pleaded not guilty in 2018 but changed her plea to guilty in August this year.

The investigation started July 6, 2017, when Ogden police officers were called to a residence in the 2800 block of Grant Avenue on a report that a child was not conscious or breathing, according to police.

Charging documents in the case described a pattern of ongoing abuse by Brenda Emile and Miller Costello, the parents of Angelina Costello, particularly by Emile. Neither parent sought needed medical attention for the girl because they didn’t want police to take their children away, charges state.

When officers arrived, they found that 3-year-old Angelina was already deceased and appeared to have been dead for some time, according to charging documents. Detectives observed “bruising, contusions, lacerations, burns, open sores and abrasions all over (the girl’s) face, hands, legs, head and neck,” according to charging documents. Angelina was also “extremely malnourished,” charges state. Officers later testified that she looked like a Holocaust victim.

Investigators also found video and photographic evidence on the couple’s cellphones of the ongoing and progressive abuse starting in January 2016, charges state.

“The videos also appear to show both (Costello and Emile) taunting the child victim with food by presenting it to her and then removing it from her and disciplining her,” according to charging documents.

A judge later ordered the couple be held without bail after prosecutors pointed to records searches for Costello and Emile that revealed more than a dozen alternative names and addresses in multiple states for each of them.

Additionally, prosecutors noted, the couple had more than $45,000 in cash when arrested, including an $8,000 cashier’s check, and a warrant pending for Costello in Montana stemming from allegations of fraud and witness tampering filed in October 2016. They also presented evidence the couple had lied about their identities when they rented their Ogden home, claiming Emile was a single mother of two children and Costello was just visiting, according to prosecutors.

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Mother charged in abuse death of 3-year-old says she was threatened into taking plea deal