Kelly receives guilty verdict

The Manassas father of 13 who said in court Wednesday he “just messed up” in leaving his youngest daughter in a hot van for seven hours was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

The jury spent five hours deliberating Kevin Christopher Kelly’s responsibility in 21-month-old Frances Kelly’s death. The verdict was announced around 11:30 Wednesday morning. In a back row of the court room, Kelly’s wife, Mary, began to cry, and one of her young daughters crept into her arms.

When court closed after 6 p.m., the jury was still deliberating on a recommendation for Kelly’s sentence. Kelly, 46, of 9727 Zimbro Ave., faces up to 15 years in prison.

Under Virginia law, the jury not only decides a defendant’s guilt or innocence, but also recommends a punishment, if applicable. Those decisions take place in two separate proceedings: trial and sentencing.

“What you feel is a proper punishment is very important to the [judicial] system. … Think about why we punish. We hope maybe [those convicted] will learn from it,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said. “We send a message so maybe another … little Frances will live because [potential child neglecters] know the people of this community will not tolerate this.”

“You spoke loudly when you convicted him,” defense attorney Carroll A. Weimer Jr. said. “We’re asking you to be lenient to this man, he is a man and he’s made mistakes. It’s a mistake to imprison a man when what he needs is [help raising his children].”

Prosecutors called several neighbors and a police officer to describe incidents in which they had found children unattended or engaged in unsafe activities in the neighborhood. They also described confronting the Kellys with their concerns, to what they said was seemingly little response.

“He needs help?” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Sandra Sylvester argued in response to Weimer’s closing arguments. “It’s a little too late. Why not in February, [when Martin Kelly was left in a video store for three hours?] Why not in April, when [Officer W.T. Poindexter nearly ran over Frances Kelly?] Why not during those seven hours?”

Defense attorneys Weimer and William C. Boyce Jr. called 11 witnesses during sentencing proceedings, including three of Kelly’s daughters, Mary Kelly and Kevin Kelly himself.

Kelly is “a good father and he loves us all a lot,” 15-year-old Katherine Kelly said.

“My dad has been very depressed and unhappy,” Rose Kelly said. “He likes to talk about [Frances.]”

Prosecutors cross-examined all but the children, whom Sylvester said had “been through enough.” Ebert and Sylvester questioned each of the defense’s adult witnesses about specific examples of Kelly children being left unattended in vehicles, the neighborhood or a video store.

Mary Kelly said her husband was “a wonderful father” whose life revolved around the children. She said that the incident Feb. 3 in which then four-year-old Martin was left in a video store for three hours occurred on a day when her husband had to take her to the emergency room with an eye injury. In answer to Weimer’s questioning, she admitted to leaving a child in the van on another occasion.

“We’ve heard a lot about a lot of different instances. Is there a problem? I submit there probably is,” Weimer said in closing arguments. “Is that going to be solved by sending Kevin Kelly to prison?”

Further debate between prosecutors and defense attorneys was over whether Kelly had blamed his children for Frances’ death, as the prosecution maintains.

“[The defense says] now he accepts [responsibility.] Do you see that in his written statement? Twice he blamed Anthony. Once he blamed Kate,” Sylvester said in final argument.

Mary Kelly said she had “heard him blame himself,” but never anyone else.

Yet the prosecution’s final witness, neighbor Erin Beecher, recalled seeing an argument between Kelly and his oldest son Anthony early in June. She remembered Anthony using an expletive and yelling, “It’s not my fault. Don’t you try to blame this on me,” at his father, as Kelly tried to hug the boy.

“I submit that is almost as tragic as the death of little Frances,” Ebert said, adding “You get an insight into the character of the defendant.”

The defense called Anthony himself to testify, but dismissed him without questioning after a conference at Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.’s bench. The defense also called Dr. John Kelly, Kelly’s father, and Dr. Eileen Feckler, Kelly’s sister to testify on his behalf.

When asked if his son had noticeably changed since Frances’ death, John Kelly said Kevin Kelly “had been tremendously inwardly struck, not so much since her death but since the accusations.”

The court later certified Feckler as a medical expert in pediatrics, who testified to her niece Frances’ healthy and normal development. In response to prosecution queries as to a lack of medical records on Frances, Feckler said she had performed Frances’ well baby checks herself. Both Feckler and John Kelly admitted under prosecution examination that a total lack of medical records on Frances was “surprising.”

The prosecution briefly speculated that lack of records might bolster speculation that Frances had been a “delayed developer,” requiring even more than usual supervision for a toddler. Feckler vehemently denied such a suggestion. John Kelly also said he knew of no such diagnosis.

The prosecution later called Dr. Marc Krenytzky, a Manassas pediatrician who treated all the other Kelly children. He was also listed on insurance records as Frances’ primary care giver, but testified that he had never seen the child. He further stated that a child would have needed 20-25 immunizations by the time she reached 21 months of age.

“I take no pleasure in prosecuting this case, but someone must speak for little Frances,” Ebert said in closing. “It’s a wonder this child lived as long as she did. What is so horrible about this case is it didn’t have to happen. This man was warned again and again, ‘you’ve got to take care of your children.'”

“Frances speaks loudly to Kevin Kelly,” Weimer said in closing arguments, as he reminded jurors that Kelly would never see Frances grow up. “Don’t send this man to jail.”

Sylvester ended rebuttal to Weimer’s closing arguments with a request of the jury: “Do what you must.”

The jury will resume their deliberations at 9 this morning.

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

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