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Woman On Trial For Allegedly Strangling Her Daughter To Death, Then Claiming The Child Hung Herself With Pajama Pants

Kelsie Thomas claims her 5-year-old daughter Cloe Chandler died accidentally, but an Iowa medical examiner says her story doesn't add up. 

By Jill Sederstrom
Kelsie Thomas Pd

An Iowa judge will determine the guilt or innocence of a mother accused of strangling her 5-year-old daughter to death, only to claim the young child hung herself on a pair of pajama pants.

The state and defense rested their cases earlier this week in the first-degree murder trial of Kelsie Thomas, whose daughter was found hanging in the family’s home in July 2018, according to local station KTVO.

Thomas opted for a judge to determine her fate in the case after a hung jury in her initial trial in March 2020.

Thomas’ daughter Cloe Chandler died July 19, 2018 after being found unresponsive in her Ottumwa home, The Des Moines Register reports.

Ottumwa Police were called to the residence about 3:22 p.m. After authorities found her unconscious, Chandler was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

A state medical examiner later determined the 5-year-old died from ligature strangulation and ruled the death a homicide, local station WHO reports.

An obituary for Chandler said she had graduated from pre-school in Agassiz just months before her death.

“She loved riding her bike, sticker books, sunflowers and everything purple,” the obituary  read.

Thomas initially told investigators that Chandler had accidentally hung herself while playing with a pair of pajama pants, KTVO reports.

However, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation later said that Thomas later admitted to killing her daughter, according to the local paper.

Police had initially been suspicious of her story after noticing Thomas appeared unemotional about the death.

Much of the testimony during the brief trial centered around the forensic evidence.

State medical examiner Dr. Michele Catellier testified that the trauma found on Chandler’s neck had been inconsistent with an accidental death.

“To find hemorrhage on both sides of the neck, at all layers of the strap muscles, within the vocalis muscle, along the carotid arteries, as well as in the back of the neck, suggests a struggling force,” she said, according to KTVO.

Dr. Thomas Young, a forensic pathologist hired by the defense, disputed that conclusion, arguing instead that the body lacked the signs of struggle normally associated with a strangulation and also had marks upward on the neck that were more indicative of a hanging, according to The Ottumwa Courier.

“There’s no account of a manual strangulation here,” he said, according to KTVO, adding that the medical examiner’s findings could only be speculative because she wasn’t there when Chandler was injured.

“The fact is, is that what the child was doing prior to her being found hanging in the closet is unknown,” he said. “We don’t know what she was doing, we don’t know exactly what she was involved in, or what she was fiddling with. We just don’t know.”

Young was the only witness to take the stand for the defense.

The prosecution and defense have been given until Nov. 3 to submit written closing arguments in the case before the judge hands down her decision.