Mary Watson is a favorite among children in her Barnes Mill Road apartment complex.

She is the woman known for her plentiful array of cookies and candy.

“She was hungry,” Watson said of 2-year-old murder victim Callie Elizabeth Robinson.

“She always wanted in that one cabinet (where the cookies were),” she said choking back tears. “She asked me for a cookie, and that was the last time I seen her.”

A jury and two alternates of 11 women and three men were chosen Monday to decide the outcome of the murder trial against Verona “V.J.” Brinegar, 24, and her former boyfriend Ronald Crabtree, 27, both charged with the Aug. 9, 2007, death of Callie Robinson, Verona’s daughter. Her death was the result of asphyxiation, according to state medical examiner reports.

Watson was a neighbor of Brinegar and Crabtree. Brinegar stopped by Watson’s apartment on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2007.

“She come to the house and told me she was pregnant,” Watson said. “She said she was expecting another child and said she didn’t know how they were going to afford it because she couldn’t afford the two they had.”

Brinegar also was mother to a 4-year-old-boy and was expecting her first child by Crabtree.

“She wanted me to baby-sit for her when she got a job, which I told her I would because I wouldn’t want to see anybody lose their kids,” she said.

However, Watson testified she told Brinegar she could not keep the children all the time.

Gayle Johnson, another resident in the apartment complex, said she heard a loud knock on her door Aug. 9.

“I went to the door and Verona was holding the baby and said, ‘My baby’s not breathing,’” Johnson said.

The women proceeded to lay the baby on the floor while a visiting friend of Johnson’s daughter (who lived with Johnson in the apartment) called 911 about 2:40 p.m.

Richmond Police Officer Chris Butcher and Mark Campbell, a Madison County EMS technician, were the first to respond to the scene and both testified Monday.

EMS technicians immediately performed CPR and administered cardiac life support.

“We were never able to get a heartbeat,” Campbell said.

During their testimonies, both Butcher and Campbell noted Brinegar’s demeanor during the incident.

“I think the neighbors and friends seemed more upset than she was,” Campbell said.

Brinegar “didn’t seem as upset as I thought she should be, considering the circumstances,” Butcher said.

Brinegar’s defense attorney, Susanne McCullough, said her client’s expression did not necessarily mean she was not feeling emotion, and that each person coped with tragic circumstances in different ways.

A search warrant issued the same day described Callie’s injuries that included “burn marks on the bottom of her left foot on the second and third toe. Burn marks also were visible in the area of the upper back left thigh and one that appeared to be days old to her bottom right foot. An apparent burn mark also was present in the right cheek area and right corner of her mouth.

“Callie also had visible bruising to the right side of her forehead,” the warrant continued. There was also visible injuries to the child’s vaginal area and, according to Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison, which may indicate sexual abuse had occurred, the warrant stated.

Rebecca Daniels, who works as a staff nurse in the emergency department at Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center, testified Monday, as she was one of the first emergency room staff to begin care for Callie.

Callie was small for a 2-year old, and had no pulse and had no heartbeat, Daniels said.

Her small body had several bruises, including the inside of both ears, scratches, burns and blisters, including scabbing under her nostrils and in one corner of her mouth, according to Daniels’ testimony.

The healing of the wounds was in several different stages and the burns were consistent with other cigarette burns Daniels had witnessed during her experience in the emergency room.

A burn on Callie’s foot resulted in a testimony from Richmond Codes Enforcement Director Joe Lillis, who has served as an electrical contractor for 40 years.

Brinegar had told neighbors that one particular burn on Callie’s foot was the result of her 4-year-old brother giving her an electric shock from a small wall outlet.

Lillis tested the outlet and said it was generating about 120 volts, which would cause a slight impact, but that actual burning does not occur until the voltages reaches 220 or higher.

“I tried to shock myself with it,” Lillis said. “I had to put my fingers up underneath.”

He admitted feeling a tingling of the skin.

It would have taken “a real effort to get in behind it to make a shock,” he said.

McCullough opened her remarks in Brinegar’s defense by making it clear to jurors that Brinegar stayed, and Crabtree ran.

Crabtree fled the scene on the day of Callie’s death and police issued a temporary wanted status for him after Brinegar was charged. Crabtree called Lexington television station WKYT-27 and reportedly told them he was innocent, according to RPD Sgt. Willard Reardon.

According to police, the call was made from a pay phone in Monticello, which is where Crabtree was arrested and delivered to the Richmond Police Department early the next morning when he then was charged with Callie’s death.

“He ran. She stayed with her baby,” McCullough said. “She’s not standing there watching her child. She is on her knees. She was trying to do what (paramedics on the telephone) were telling her to do to save her child.”

Crabtree is being defended by Wes and Valetta Browne, who base much of his defense on the fact that Callie was not taken care of properly by her mother, according to Wes Browne’s opening argument.

“There’s one fact here today,” he said. “A sweet, innocent, little girl died and she didn’t have to. Callie Robinson died because she was not taken care of. She was abused and neglected. The only consolation we can take is that she’s in a better place.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Hall spoke sternly to jurors as she gave the prosecution’s opening remarks Monday.

“Verona Brinegar and Ronnie Crabtree are charged with abusing and killing Callie Robinson,” Hall  said. “This case is really about Callie’s story, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. Her story is a story of cruelty, torture and murder. What we know most about Callie’s story begins with her death.”

The trial is expected to continue today, Wednesday, Friday and could conclude on Monday.

 Ronica Shannon can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 234.

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