Witnesses relate toddler’s death

Prince William County prosecutors argued Monday that a Manassas father of 13 should be held responsible for the death of his youngest daughter. Frances Kelly, age 21 months, was left in the family van for about seven hours May 29, a day described by several witnesses as very warm. The toddler died of hyperthermia.

Kevin Christopher Kelly’s defense attorney, Carroll A. Weimer Jr., argued that Frances’ death was “a tragic, tragic accident, but not a crime.”

Kelly, 46, of 9727 Zimbro Ave., is charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. Monday was the first day of what is expected to be a three-day trial.

Jurors were selected, opening arguments presented and four of the Commonwealth’s witnesses gave testimony before Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. closed the proceedings at 5:30 p.m.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Sandra Sylvester said in opening arguments that when talking to police, Kelly “pointed the finger of blame at his children.” The older Kelly children were helping to care for the younger children while their mother and oldest sister were visiting relatives in Ireland.

“We’re going to ask you to point the finger of blame at the person responsible for her death — that man, Kevin Kelly,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester said that medical examiners’ evidence would show that an hour and 45 minutes after Frances was discovered, her body temperature was 105.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said Frances “literally roasted to death.”

“There are many good things about coming from a large family. [One of those is that you are never alone] … if only that were true for Frances Kelly … Frances found herself all alone and she died all alone,” Sylvester said.

“Frances was buried June 3, and that very day, her father was indicted by the government,” Weimer said in his opening arguments.

The Commonwealth’s first witness was Joan McIver, a neighbor of the Kellys who discovered Frances in the family van. About 7 or 7:30 p.m. May 29, McIver and her husband walked past the 15-passenger van parked outside the Kelly home. Joan McIver saw Frances sitting in a car seat in the van.

“She looked like she was sleeping,” McIver said.

Brian McIver said he went to the Kelly house to tell them they had forgotten a child in the van. The house door was opened first by a toddler, then an older boy Joan McIver said was Anthony Kelly.

“He looked very panicked. We ran to the [van],” Brian McIver said.

According to the McIvers, Anthony Kelly ran to get the van keys. He opened the door and climbed inside.

“I thought he was going to be sick,” Joan McIver said.

A younger child then slipped between the McIvers, unbuckled his younger sister and pulled her from the van, the McIvers said.

Shortly thereafter, Michael Byrne, who had been replacing an air-conditioning unit in the house next door to the Kellys, arrived with his cell phone. Under directions from a 911 operator, Byrne attempted to provide CPR to Frances.

“She was very, very hot and turning black and blue. [The 911 operator] said you still have to try to save her. I said, ‘I will [try] but I think she’s expired,'” Byrne testified.

Projecting a picture of Frances’ body on a television screen, Ebert questioned Byrne about her appearance.

Despite objections from Weimer, prosecutors played a redacted tape of the 911 call before jurors. Sitting between his attorneys, Weimer and William C. Boyce Jr., Kelly buried his face in his hands as the tape played.

“We very quickly determined the child was beyond resuscitation capability,” said Salvatore Marini, an EMT who responded to the scene. Marini was the last witness called Monday.

Selection of a jury to try Kevin Kelly took several hours. Around 40 people were eliminated from a jury pool before six men and six women were empaneled. In earlier hearings, Weimer had voiced concerns about the impartiality of the jury pool in Prince William County, due to media coverage of the case.

Ebert questioned potential jurors about their children, if any believed the alleged crime was less serious because the victim was young, and whether the victims had ever had a bad experience with the legal system. Weimer then questioned the jury pool about their experiences with lawyers, and whether any believed that merely having 13 children was “irresponsible,” among other questions. Both attorneys asked if potential jurors had been prejudiced by media coverage of the case, and whether they would be able to view graphic photographs of Frances’ body.

Today, jurors will hear testimony from more of the Commonwealth’s witnesses. Evidence may also be presented, as well as evidence for the defense.

Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.

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