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Waynesboro woman gets life sentence for murder of 3-year-old girl

Candi Royer told an Augusta County courtroom Thursday that she was no murderer, moments before she was sentenced to life in prison for the 2021 death of 3-year-old Khaleesi Cuthriell.

Royer has previously submitted a guilty plea to first-degree murder in September.

Her co-defendant and former boyfriend Travis Brown was sentenced to life plus an additional 20 years last week for aggravated murder and child abuse.

Just before her sentencing Thursday, Royer told the court that she took “full responsibility for Cuthriell’s death, but “didn’t kill her.” She described her life as one dominated by addiction and abuse, influencing how she raised the child left in her care.

The Staunton child was placed in the custody of Royer and Brown in October 2020 after the child’s mother, Amanda Mullen, was put behind bars for a probation violation. Cuthriell is believed to have died sometime in January 2021. Her body was never recovered.

Judge Shannon Sherrill said finding the words to describe Cuthriell’s fate was difficult. Cell phone videos exhibited in court during Brown’s trial in August showed a healthy child rapidly deteriorating over a matter of months. In later videos, the emaciated child could barely stand, was missing clumps of hair and was covered in scratches and bruises. A medical expert testified at Brown’s trial that Cuthriell had been tortured and had suffered neglect and psychological abuse.

Sherrill called what happened “cruel” and “barbaric.” He said the death brought “righteous indignation,” even though the details and the exact cause of that death remain unclear.

Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin told Sherrill before the judge sentenced Royer Thursday, that the defendant was previously convicted of robbery. He said while justice could not be done in Cuthriell’s case, “a life sentence is as close as we can come.”

Outside of the Augusta County Courthouse in Staunton, Martin said the Child Protective Services division of Shenandoah Valley Social Services also had culpability.

“They failed Khaleesi terribly,” said Martin, referring to a lack of any follow-up after the child was placed in the custody of Brown and Royer in 2020. The child had been placed in the hands of a woman under home confinement and a man who was a 29-time felon, and nothing was done to stop it.

“It’s not at all right what Child Protective Services did,” said Martin, who said the child might have lived had the agency done its job.

Royer’s defense attorney, Jessica Sherman-Stoltz, said the mitigating factors in her client’s case included severe drug addiction and said there had been no reported abuse of Cuthriell by other people who saw her in the weeks before the suspected date of death.

The picture of Royer that emerged during the more than two hours of testimony and evidence Thursday was, at best, incomplete.

Royer’s sister, Angela Moore, said her sister is a mother of six children who “was always good with kids.” She described Royer as being loving and kind with children. “I never saw her do anything mean to them,” said Moore.

Royer’s criminal history dates back more than two decades and includes a robbery conviction in Waynesboro in 1999 that led to a 10-year sentence, with seven years and nine months suspended.

In the months before her arrest in September 2021, she and Brown embarked on a crime spree, stealing a vehicle as well as a boat on Lake Anna in Louisa County. The spree came to an end in a Pennsylvania motel in September 2021, when U.S. marshals and Pennsylvania State Police officers took the couple into custody.

The mystery of what was done with Cuthriell’s body remains. Martin said there are “two people who know,” referring to Brown and Royer.

No body has ever been found despite multiple searches of the Cattle Scales Road property outside Waynesboro where Brown and Royer lived with Cuthriell.

One piece of evidence presented in court Thursday, however, did point to her fate.

A wire hanger found on the Cattle Scales Road property contained hair belonging to Cuthriell on one side and DNA evidence belonging to Royer on the other.

Mullen, Cuthriell’s mother, testified Thursday she can’t reconcile how Brown and Royer could “do something so horrible when you have children of your own.”

Since Cuthriell’s death, legislation has been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly that would allow a child’s relatives to step in when parents are detained, providing the same kind of social services support and funding that foster parents receive. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has expressed support for such measures. Groups, such as the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center, oppose them, saying any such legislation would just create a “hidden foster care” system.


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