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Psychologist: Murderous parents viewed toddler daughter as defective, ‘cursed’

By Mark Shenefelt - | Jan 27, 2023

BENJAMIN ZACK, Standard-Examiner file photo

Brenda Emile appears in the 2nd District Court in Ogden on Thursday, July 13, 2017. Emile and Miller Costello have been charged with aggravated murder in the death of their 3-year-old daughter.

OGDEN — A clinical psychologist testified Friday that a descent into drug addiction and an apparent belief that a prematurely born child was “cursed” played a part in the systematic torture and starvation death of a 3-year-old Ogden girl.

Lawrence Beall, an expert witness called by the defense, spoke on behalf of Brenda Emile, 28, who is being sentenced for aggravated murder in the July 6, 2017, death of Angelina Costello. He said Emile’s background in the Romani culture, a dysfunctional family upbringing and a domestic violence-impacted marriage also affected Emile.

Beall said that in the Romani culture, a suspicion of mental disorder or physical defect can be “considered a curse. It singles out this person as worthy of being hurt.”

He said Emile’s husband and co-defendant, Miller Eric Costello, 30, “suspected that Anna (Angelina’s nickname) was not his child. When Anna was born premature and highly dysfunctional, Eric said, ‘See, that’s true. She’s cursed.'”

Second District Judge Michael DiReda will pronounce sentence on Emile and Costello on Feb. 3. Under state law, there are two options for the sentence: 25 years to life in prison or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Beall testified that his studies of Emile led him to conclude that she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder from a lifetime of abuse and dysfunction, worsened by the secretive, isolating, male-dominated Romani culture and the couple’s drug abuse. He said as Costello began abusing her early in their marriage, “that exacerbated a dissociative process that was already underway.”

Under questioning by DiReda, Beall said the possibility of Emile being rehabilitated in prison, to be considered for parole, is unknown. “She has to leave absolutely the culture in which she grew up,” he said. It also depends on the quality of treatment in prison, and he said what’s offered by the state there is “vanilla.”

Prosecutor Branden Miles asked Beall if Emile’s paradoxical claims to both be good and troubled “suggest manipulation?” Beall responded, “It could.”

Another member of the Weber County prosecution team, Letitia Toombs, urged DiReda during her closing arguments to cut through the volume of what Emile has said and what the defense excerpts have said about her, and focus on her actions.

“Her character is to lie, manipulate and use others for her own ends,” Toombs said. She said a social history of Emile compiled by another defense witness “is fundamentally flawed because it all comes from Brenda” with no corroboration.

Being a Romani, Toombs said, “doesn’t mean that you’re a murderer or that you abuse your children, burn them with cigarettes and starve them. We don’t see a trail of beaten and starved (Romani) children.”

Toombs called on DiReda to consider Emile’s deeds, which are seen on over a year of phone videos that Costello and Emile recorded of the couple featuring Angelina, including taunting her with food.

“One child was scapegoated and singled out for sadistic abuse,” Toombs said. Angelina was the middle of three children and the others essentially were thriving, attorneys said.

Emile “was a willing and, yes, sometimes a gleeful participant in that torture,” Toombs said, referring to videos in which Emile giggled while tormenting Angelina with offered and withdrawn food. “Judge her by her actions and what they show regarding her intent,” the prosecutor said.

Toombs added, “Who were these monsters who had the depravity of mind to do this and who took pleasure in documenting it?”

She said Angelina’s decline and death “was up-close, complete depravity, the worst of the worst.”

Public defender Jason Widdison, giving the closing argument for Emile, said the defense in no way excuses Emile’s actions or recommends that she be paroled, even decades into the future. But he did argue that a parole board far into the future be given the option of at least considering it.

“This case provides the possibility of a redemption story,” Widdison said, “in the latter stages of her life, to be clear.”

Widdison, who has represented Emile since her arrest in 2017, said he believes she “has goodness and love in her heart and her soul and she hopes to transform her life” and even possibly reconnect with the other two children decades from now.


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