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Prosecutor: Costello ‘no shrinking violet,’ deserves life sentence

By Mark Shenefelt - | Jan 31, 2023

SARAH WELLIVER, Standard-Examiner file photo

Miller Costello looks over his shoulder Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, during a preliminary hearing in the 2nd District Court in Ogden. Costello and Brenda Emile have been charged with aggravated murder in the death of their 3-year-old daughter.

OGDEN — A prosecutor urged the sentencing judge on Tuesday to focus on Miller Eric Costello’s documented torture of his daughter, not the defense’s arguments that he was “a follower, not a leader,” and that he suffers from an intellectual disability.

“He is a thinking, acting, adult human being who does what he wants,” Letitia Toombs, a Weber County Attorney’s Office prosecutor, said of Costello, seen in a series of phone videos that documented the long-term torture and starvation of 3-year-old Angelina Costello.

Costello and his wife, Brenda Emile, 28, agreed last year to plead guilty to aggravated murder in return for prosecutors dropping their pursuit of the death penalty. The two were arrested after the toddler’s death on July 6, 2017.

Costello’s attorneys and a defense mitigation specialist argued earlier Tuesday that Costello had been examined by state psychiatrists who determined he had a low IQ and had a level of intellectual disability. They argued that Costello was terrorized by Emile’s family and that he was on the road working when much of the abuse occurred.

But in her closing argument, Toombs posed the question, “Who did what? We know that neither one fed her and both of them tortured her. This is sadistic torture, just because they wanted to.”

Costello “is no shrinking violet,” she said, adding, “There is only one good sentence: life without the possibility of parole.”

Second District Judge Michael DiReda will sentence Costello and Emile on Friday. The lesser choice of sentence given under state law is 25 years to life in prison, which leaves open the chance for parole at some point if an inmate demonstrates being worthy of the chance.

Defense attorney Randall Marshall said with a sentence of life without parole, “In a sense, the court is saying this is a throwaway person, that they have no place in society and we’ll just warehouse them.” That forecloses “the opportunity to set the path in the right direction.”

DiReda said he was not indicting which sentence he will choose, but he said, “It is a painful irony that both (Costello) and Ms. Emile are asking to be afforded that which they weren’t willing to give their daughter: Hope. They gave her nothing.”

Costello asked to make a statement to the court. Of the phone videos, he said, “most of the time that was not me.” He said that “the minute I got married to Erica (Brenda’s middle name), I got hooked on drugs.”

He said the autopsy photos shown in court “are horrible. I don’t eat, I don’t sleep. No father should go through that. All of those bruises, none of those came from me.”

Earlier, prosecutor Branden Miles quizzed a mitigation specialist about why she did not include several troubling incidents in an 86-page report that otherwise attested to Costello’s low intelligence, strong work ethic and love for his wife and children.

Susan Lehmann was the opening witness as Costello’s attorneys began their effort to demonstrate mitigating circumstances.

Lehmann said she interviewed Costello several times in the Weber County Jail and also talked to several people from his side of the family after she was hired by the defense to compile a social history focusing on his background.

She said Costello was part of a well-established Romani community in Billings, Montana, that operated numerous businesses, including car dealerships. On the other hand, she said, many people on Emile’s side of the family “had extensive criminal records” and were “grifters, they conned people.”

Lehmann said Costello was sheltered in the insular Romani community and went against the intentions of his family when he married Emile. This caused an estrangement and Costello went along with Emile and her family, Lehmann said.

Costello had a “very low IQ” and had little socialization in his background, she said.

Her report said Emile told Costello when she became pregnant with Angelina that she “did not want this baby” and she “doubled down on her smoking.”

Asked by Marshall about evidence videos that show Costello participating in the physical and emotional abuse of Angelina, Lehmann said, “Eric was brainwashed into this behavior, that there was something unfixable about Angelina.”

Miles asked why there was no mention in Lehmann’s report of Costello being on federal criminal probation for fraud, that he was accused in Montana of cheating a scrap metal customer out of thousands of dollars, and that Costello and Emile sped away from a Layton clothing store after several people noticed the emaciated Angelina and begged them to wait for medical help.

Lehmann said she had noted the probation matter in a draft of her report but she deleted it from the final version “in my haste to get a finalized report because I don’t have any supporting documentation for that.”

Regarding the fraud allegations, which never resulted in a criminal case against Costello, Lehmann said it should have been included in the report but that it had been in a shared folder that may have included some records she had not seen.

“Sometimes I wish I had an executive assistant,” she said. “I’m not trying to sound evasive. There are an awful lot of records here.”

Miles and DiReda both asked her why the report did not mention the May 24, 2017, incident in Layton, less than two months before Angelina died.

“It never occurred to me to put it in there,” Lehmann told Miles. “I looked at it once when I was hired and never looked at it again.”

The judge noted that “a large number of customers were horrified and pleaded with Brenda to remain, but when she got in the truck, Eric quickly drove out of the parking lot. This seems pretty significant. I’m curious why your detailed report overlooks a critical piece of information and I am trying to understand why.”

He said the Layton incident “bears on whether or not the level of depravity is so significant that they should not be eligible for parole.”

Lehmann said, “I never let it register, the extent of Eric’s involvement in that incident.”

Marshall later asked Lehmann about what her reports normally contain. They normally don’t have information that’s already been gathered during discovery in the criminal cases, she indicated, but rather other information about a defendant’s background that is not already known.

Editor’s note: Susan Lehmann is a mitigation specialist. She said she looked at the report about the Layton incident when she was hired as a specialist. A previous version of this story listed an incorrect title and incorrectly quoted Lehmann about when she read the Layton report.


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