NORRISTOWN — A Hatfield man accused of fatally beating and strangling his live-in girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter in October 2016 will not face the death penalty if he’s convicted of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing, according to prosecutors.

“When you look at a case you have to look at all of the factors. You have to look at everything from the defendant’s background, age and the circumstances of the case. It’s a weighing process and we take it really seriously but we just didn’t feel in this particular case that it was appropriate to go forward with it,” Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr. said on Wednesday after Marquis Lamont Thomas was formally arraigned on murder-related charges in county court.

With the death penalty off the table, Thomas, 33, of the 1300 block of Needham Circle, will face life imprisonment if convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the alleged Oct. 18, 2016, death of 4-year-old Kailee Bunrout, who was the daughter of Thomas’s girlfriend.

Under state law, first-degree murder is punishable by either life imprisonment or death by lethal injection. It’s during a formal arraignment hearing that prosecutors must notify a judge about their intentions regarding the death penalty.

In order to obtain a death penalty, prosecutors must show that aggravating factors -- circumstances that make a killing more heinous -- outweigh any mitigating factors, circumstances that favor a defendant. Specifically, prosecutors have about 18 aggravating factors, under state law, which they can use to seek the death penalty.

Thomas also faces charges of third-degree murder, endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated and simple assault and unlawful restraint in connection with the alleged crimes against the child. A conviction of third-degree murder, a killing committed with malice, carries a possible maximum sentence of 20-to-40-years in prison.

Additionally, Thomas faces charges of criminal attempt at murder, endangering the welfare of a child, strangulation, aggravated and simple assault and unlawful restraint in connection with the alleged physical abuse suffered by Kailee’s 8-year-old brother in September 2018.

Thomas, wearing a red jailhouse jumpsuit, carefully studied the charging documents as McCann read each of the 28 charges lodged against him in court.

Defense lawyer Matthew W. Quigg entered not guilty pleas to all of the charges on Thomas’s behalf.

“He loved the children that are involved in this case, treated them as his own and is looking forward to his day in court to contest these charges,” Quigg said.

Quigg did not reveal any potential defense strategies.

Thomas was supported in court by his mother, Vanessa, and his younger brother, Michael.

“I support him 100 percent. He’s innocent 100 percent,” Michael said before the hearing began.

Thomas is being held in the county jail without bail pending his next court hearing.

Judge Risa Vetri Ferman set a Jan. 10, 2020, trial date.

While the cause and manner of Kailee’s death originally was listed as “undetermined,” investigators took another look at the case when the little girl’s brother was treated at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on Sept. 15, 2018, for alleged child abuse injuries, court papers indicate.

“When the boy was taken to CHOP by his mother with similar injuries as Kailee’s, it raised a red flag with medical personnel and with detectives, leading to the reopening of the investigation,” county District Attorney Kevin R. Steele previously explained.

Thomas initially was arrested on March 9 on charges related to the alleged physical abuse of the 8-year-old boy and failed to post $500,000 cash bail and has been in jail since that time.

The investigation of Kailee’s death began about 7:51 a.m. Oct. 18, 2016, when Towamencin police responded to a residence at Forge Gate Apartments on Snyder Road for a report of an unresponsive 4-year-old girl. Upon arrival, police were directed to a bedroom by the child’s mother and there they observed Thomas performing CPR on Kailee, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective Gregory Henry and Towamencin Detective Patrick Horne.

The little girl was later pronounced dead at Abington Health Lansdale Hospital at 8:33 a.m., according to court papers. Court documents indicate authorities noticed bruising on the little girl’s torso.

During an investigation, Kailee’s mother told detectives that she did not observe any bruising or other injuries on the child when she bathed her and put her to bed the night before, Oct. 17. The woman told detectives she went to work at 3:50 a.m. Oct. 18, and around 8 a.m. she received a text message from Thomas indicating Kailee “won’t wake up,” according to the criminal complaint.

When Kailee’s mother arrived home she tried to awaken the child and then called 911 after learning Thomas had not called to request assistance, according to the arrest affidavit. The woman noticed Kailee’s skin was cold and she described “red saliva” on the little girl’s shirt and bed.

At the request of a 911 dispatcher, Thomas began performing chest compressions on the little girl until police and emergency medical officials arrived.

When Thomas was interviewed he told detectives he awoke about 7:44 a.m. and went to Kailee’s room and she would not wake so he sat on the bed and tried to wake her by “shaking her shoulder,” according to the arrest affidavit. Thomas allegedly told detectives he noticed Kailee’s skin was cold.

Thomas claimed he observed bruising on Kailee when his girlfriend was changing the child for bed on Oct. 17, according to the arrest affidavit.

A review of Kailee’s medical history revealed that on Sept. 4, 2016, she was evaluated at CHOP by doctors who identified hemorrhages in both eyes, a bruise below her left eye, injuries to her tongue consistent with bite marks, two healing rib fractures and multiple scars on her torso, according to the criminal complaint.

An Oct. 19, 2016, autopsy by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office identified contusions, abrasions and scars of the skin, a hemorrhage of the right eye, soft tissue hemorrhage in the neck, lacerations of the heart and liver and hemorrhages of the stomach and urinary bladder, according to court documents.

The cause and manner of Kailee’s death, at that time, was listed as “undetermined.”

On Sept. 15, 2018, Kailee’s brother was admitted to CHOP and an examination identified hemorrhages in both eyes and bruising under his right eye and an evaluation identified no underlying medical or accidental cause to explain the boy’s condition, according to the criminal complaint.

Doctors opined the boy’s injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma/child physical abuse.” At the time, the little boy was living with his mother and Thomas in Hatfield. Thomas and the victims’ mother also share a younger daughter, court papers indicate.

In February 2019, authorities interviewed the 8-year-old boy and he disclosed that Thomas “choked” him on multiple occasions. At that time, the little boy also disclosed that on the night before Kailee’s death he observed Kailee walking to the bathroom with Thomas and that the little girl was crying, according to the arrest affidavit.

Detectives reopened the investigation of Kailee’s death and on June 19 a doctor who reviewed the 2016 autopsy and other materials concluded Kailee “died as a result of blunt impact trauma and strangulation” and listed the manner of death as homicide.

Detectives concluded that Thomas “had care, custody and control” of Kailee immediately prior to when she was found dead.

“The injuries she sustained at that time are consistent with inflicted trauma, specifically, blunt force trauma and strangulation,” Henry and Horne wrote in the arrest affidavit.

Detectives further alleged that when Thomas did not call for medical assistance for the girl on Oct. 18, instead advising his girlfriend in a text that Kailee was unresponsive, suggested that “this inaction was an attempt by Thomas to distance himself from the event and evade answering prompt questions by a 911 operator.”

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