Judge sees ‘hand of evil’ in toddler’s murder, sentences parents to life without parole
OGDEN — Saying he “sees the hand of evil” in the torture and starvation murder of 3-year-old Angelina Costello, Judge Michael DiReda on Friday sentenced the toddler’s parents, Miller Eric Costello and Brenda Emile, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Calling the pair “monsters,” the 2nd District Court judge at times appeared to choke up as he explained his reasoning for imposing the harshest sentence available rather than the other option allowed by state law, 25 years to life in prison.
Costello, 30, and Emile, 28, pleaded guilty last year to first-degree felony aggravated murder, thereby avoiding a potential death sentence. Angelina died on July 6, 2017, after what police and prosecutors said was more than a year of beatings, burns and other abuse while the parents starved the girl, taunting her with food and recording many incidents on their phones.
The parents appeared to react stoically to the sentences. They were seated at opposite ends of a long defense table in an Ogden courtroom after attorneys had warned that there were security concerns. In an outburst during the first day of the sentencing hearing last week, Emile stood and shouted something at Costello.
DiReda began the sentencing Friday by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The judge said the law requires him to consider “the totality of circumstances” and impose a “proportionate” penalty.
DiReda then quoted from the autopsy report. He said Angelina suffered blunt-force injuries to her head, torso and extremities; significant head and neck injuries; internal bleeding; organ damage; the traumatic chipping of teeth; and deep burns to her chest and abdomen. Cigarette burns “all over her little body” melted the skin, the judge said.
Turning to Emile, the judge said he did not find her to be “credible in any respect.” Raised in a Romani culture “to manipulate and take advantage of people,” Emile “will say and do anything to benefit herself,” he said.
He quoted from Emile’s initial police interview, in which she “acted surprised” that Angelina had died. She was normal, she was healthy, Emile said. “These statements are astonishing, reflective of the dishonesty and lack of accountability,” the judge said.
In Costello’s first police interview, he said he “knew Angelina was going to die,” the judge said. “He knew it was the right thing to do but he didn’t do it,” the judge said Costello told officers.
Angelina was starved over many months, routinely teased and taunted with food, and Costello “used his phone to video this horrific psychological torture,” DiReda said.
Costello minimized his involvement and blamed Emile, “but like Brenda, he is not credible,” the judge said.
Costello underwent intellectual testing and doctors concluded he has a low IQ, but DiReda said he gave little weight to that evidence “when it comes to the crime” because Costello was functional in his life, working and otherwise performing familial and community roles. The judge also said one of the doctors noted that Costello made a “suboptimal effort on cognitive testing.”
DiReda referred to a letter submitted by the adoptive mother of Angelina’s older brother. The boy remains deeply traumatized, she said.
The boy, who was 4 when Angelina died, “was instructed to strike Angelina and was praised for it,” the judge said. “This was uniquely cruel and psychologically devastating to Angelina.”
In his decades in the criminal justice system, DiReda said he “has never seen this level of depravity and evil.” It was the “ultimate betrayal” of a child and the judge said he “sees the hand of evil” in the parents’ actions.
“She just deserved to be held in her parents’ arms, to be loved and protected,” he said. “Instead she was dehumanized and tortured by monsters.”
DiReda said neither defendant “has shown remorse or taken responsibility, and that speaks loudly to me. The people who mourn Angelina the most are a bunch of strangers who only got to know her after she died.”
In hearings last week, the court heard witnesses describe claims that one or both of the parents believed Angelina was “cursed” because she had been born prematurely, and that Emile said while pregnant that she did not want the baby and increased her level of smoking.