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A San Diego judge has denied bail for the adopted mother and grandmother of an 11-year-old girl who died as a result of abuse and neglect.
Leticia McCormack, 49, and Adella Tom, 70, were arrested on Nov. 7 — along with Stanley Tom, 75, McCormack's father — for the Aug. 30 death of McCormack's adopted daughter, Arabella McCormack, 11. Leticia McCormack, a former leader at Rock Church in San Diego, and Stanley Tom were each charged at that time with one count of first-degree murder, three counts of torture and three counts of willful cruelty to a child causing injury or death. Adella Tom faces three counts of torture and three counts of willful cruelty to a child causing injury or death.
All three have been held without bail since their arrest, but only the women sought a review of that decision in their cases, arguing they had no prior criminal history and posed no risk to the public, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The judge disagreed.
San Diego Deputy District Attorney Meredith Pro presented evidence on Tuesday that, at the time of her death, 11-year-old Arabella McCormack weighed only 48 pounds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 50th percentile for weight for a girl of that age is 86 pounds; prosecutors noted that she weighed more at the age of five, which would've put her in the 90th percentile at the time.
Prosecutors told the judge that first responders arrived at the home around 2 a.m. on Aug. 30 for reports of a distressed child, and found Arabella lying on the living room floor, pale and without a pulse.
“Her bones protruded from her skin,” Pro told the court, according to the paper, and she was covered with lacerations and bruises. She was later discovered to have had 15 broken bones that were still in the process of healing.
Pro told the court that the four adults in the home — the Toms, Leticia McCormack and her husband, Brian McCormack, a 19-year veteran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — tortured Arabella and her two younger sisters, ages six and seven, by hitting them with paddles and sticks, deliberately starving them, denying them medical treatment for four years, confining them to their bedrooms, forcing them to perform "rigorous exercise" and refusing them the use of the bathroom when they needed to go.
“We can imagine no scenario where individuals like this, are facing charges such as this, against outrageous evil actions such as this, where they are not a danger to the public,” Pro told the court, according to San Diego NBC affiliate KNSD.
Prosecutors said the allegations are backed up by text messages exchanged by the four adults — including several that Brian McCormack sent his wife in the days leading up to Arabella's death warning her that the girl was "starving to death" and likely to die.
Brian McCormack allegedly shot himself in the head in his truck outside the family home on Aug. 30, in front of investigators who had returned to speak to the adults about Arabella's death. Pro told the court that, were he still alive, he would also be facing charges in the girl's death.
Arabella's younger sisters spent three weeks in the hospital being nourished back to health before being released to a different foster family.
The three girls had been removed from their biological mother's custody and placed with the McCormacks as foster children in 2017. Prosecutors allege that the abuse began almost immediately. The McCormacks formally adopted the three in 2019, then pulled them all out of school, allegedly in order to homeschool them.
A neighbor of the family told KNSD that she had no idea there were children living in the home.
“The only time I saw children there was when we first moved in four-and-a-half years ago,” next-door neighbor Jenn Kuroski told the station. “There were two little girls sitting on the stoop waiting outside. I assumed they were friends of visitors to the house, not that they live there, because I have never seen children playing, coming and going to school. I've never heard children.”
The girls' biological mother Torriana Florey and their unnamed biological father — who KNSD reports is an enrolled member of the federally-recognized Mesa Grande Band of Diegueño Mission Indians — are seeking custody of the surviving children. (Fosters and adoptions of Indigenous children are covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act, which establishes strict standards under which they can be adopted into non-Indigenous families. The law is currently under scrutiny at the Supreme Court. It is unclear whether it was invoked during the McCormacks' fostering or adoption proceedings.)
McCormack and the Toms have all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. All three are due back in court on Jan. 18.
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