Documents unsealed in Smyrna child death case

Affidavit brings details

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SMYRNA — With access to court records, details have emerged that provide a little more information to what led to the arrest of a former Smyrna couple charged in connection with the death of 3-year-old Emma Grace Cole in 2019.

Originally sealed to public review, probable cause documents for Kristie L. Haas, 28, and Brandon L. Haas, 39, were opened in mid-November when the case transferred to Kent County Superior Court and Judge Jeffrey Clark approved a request from Deputy Attorney General Kevin Smith to unseal them.

The affidavit of probable cause filed by Smyrna Police on Sept. 29, 2020, outlines evidence gathered through surveillance and video footage that led to the arrest warrants.

And while the Delaware Department of Justice says it will provide an update on the high profile case when circumstances allow, a spokesman for the agency declined to comment last week.

No court action has been scheduled since the couple was arraigned in separate hearings late last year.

Mr. Haas was released on an $8,000 secured bail.

Mrs. Haas remains in custody at Delores J. Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle, according to the Delaware VineLink inmate database. Court records show she’s being held on $100,000 cash bail and her attorney was listed as Public Defender Anthony J. Capone.

Delaware VinelLink listed Mr. Haas as having supervised custody, which was detailed as pretrial supervision. According to court documents, a Feb. 11 progress report from a Delaware Probation and Parole officer indicated “if the defendant continues to test positive for drugs or alcohol, a breach of release should be submitted.”

Mr. Haas waived a preliminary hearing in the Court of Common Pleas on Nov. 13, but the DOJ successfully motioned to close the courtroom. A 30-minute hearing then commenced without the public allowed inside.

No attorney was listed for Mr. Haas in a court docket, although he was represented by John Deckers during the November appearance.

The circumstances of Emma’s death remain a mystery.

The investigation began when a child’s remains were found near a Smyrna-Clayton Little Lass softball field on Sept. 13, 2019 by a man walking his dog. Smyrna Police identified the child as Emma in October 2020 and her mother and stepfather were taken into police custody in Pennsylvania shortly after. Once extradited to Delaware, the Haases were each charged with endangering the welfare of a child and tampering with physical evidence.

In summation, the detective wrote in the affidavit of probable cause that he was seeking warrants on the endangering charge “because there is probable cause to believe that (redacted info) died while in their custody and under their care, and because they failed to report her missing or deceased.

“Further, there was also no evidence that (the couple had) sought medical attention for (the late child) during the time period in question.

“Also, (the child) died during the period that her welfare was endangered.”

The warrant to charge for tampering with physical evidence was sought, according to police in the affidavit, “because there is a probable cause to believe that the (child’s) body was removed and burned, with the remains left in a secluded area.”

Case progresses

Smyrna police spokesman Sgt. Brian Donner said last week that the “case has certainly been the most followed and talked about incident in Smyrna PD’s modern history. We have spent countless man hours on it.

“As far as an update, we’re still at a standstill on our end and any status change would be on DOJ’s end.”

In January, a DOJ spokesman pointed to the pandemic and its impact on judicial business. “The current suspension of many Court functions (including grand juries) triggers an accompanying slowdown in indictments,” said Mat Marshall in an email.

But while details on the case and court actions have been limited, the public outpouring of support has been abundant. The Smyrna Clayton Little Lass Softball organization began a temporary memorial in October and on Nov. 21 renamed the minor league field as the Emma Grace Memorial Field.

Several members of Emma’s family traveled from Indiana, where Emma was born, to attend that ceremony.

A private group Facebook page “Justice for Emma Grace” had more than 1,800 members as of last week. The page quickly gained followers nationally and internationally when launched in mid-October after Emma was identified.

Within days, the page drew approximately 1,300 members. Those joining identified themselves as being from at least 20 states, along with residents of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, Germany and Finland, and many area towns.

A new member on Feb. 10 made her first post that read:

“Can someone give me more info on this. What little I read from news articles doesn’t really tell much on what happened. The little I do understand has me outraged and I want this angel baby to get justice!”

The post was met with a response:

“This page is run mostly by family members, who can’t speak freely or give any details or information of any kind that hasn’t already been published publicly, until the legal proceedings are settled.

“If you read through the comments on older posts, there’s some information there, but they really cannot go into it.” Indiana court records show that Kristie Haas, also known as Kristie Cole, is the mother of Emma and three other children, whose paternity was established in that state’s court system. Mr. Haas is not their biological father.

Those records also show that after paternity for Emma was established in 2016, a guardian was appointed for a period of time from September 2016 to September 2017.

In August 2017, Kristie L. Cole filed a notice to relocate from that state that was unopposed. Social media posts indicated that she married Mr. Haas in May 2017.

Probable cause detailed

Police allege in the affidavit that the child’s remains were apparently taken to the Little Lass field area in early September 2019, which was captured on video from a security camera at Smyrna Middle School on the other side of Duck Creek Parkway where the softball complex is located.

A Smyrna police detective said in the affidavit that “a mid sized passenger car (was observed) entering the complex at (12:14 a.m.) and (leaving) at 1:37 a.m. on a date in the first week of September.

“A figure appearing to be the size of an adult human being could be observed outside the vehicle during this time frame.”

A nationwide push to identify the child’s remains — estimated to be 2.75 to 4.25 years old at the time of death, according to the affidavit — received a boost on Sept. 11, 2020 when Smyrna police “received a credible tip that the child’s remains may be that of (name redacted).”

The document cites the facial reconstruction sketches created and released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in November 2019, forensic analysis from the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History and a national alert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Violent Apprehension Program on June 30, 2020 as the quest to identify the late child continued.

Following the tip in September 2020, according to the affidavit, investigators determined that the child had been born to Ms. Haas (also known as Kristie Lynn Cole) in Indiana.

Further investigation found that Mrs. Haas had lived in a Kent County residence (address redacted) from July 2018 to approximately December 2019.

Mrs. Haas had four children when she married Mr. Haas on May 10, 2017, according to the affidavit, which states he was not biologically related to any of the children.

After a subpoena of records and medical records from the Division of Family Services, the children were identified, the affidavit said.

Surveillance of the family began after the Wilmington Field office of the FBI was notified of possible persons of interest in the case, documents said.

Surveillance teams saw Mrs. Haas and a male child leave a Comfort Inn and Suites hotel on Baltimore Pike in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, early on the morning of Sept. 23, 2020, the affidavit said, noting Mrs. Haas “threw several items of trash into the hotel’s dumpster ...”

The items were later secured and taken to the Division of Forensic Science for DNA analysis, according to police.

Mr. Haas was seen leaving the hotel in a red Chevy Malibu with a Delaware registration the next day and traveling south to Delaware, documents said.

Police noted that Mr. Haas had been contacted by officers at a residence (address redacted) on Aug. 25, 2019.

“In footage from a body worn camera, what appears to be the same red Chevy Malibu can be observed in the driveway of the residence,” the affidavit said.

“This vehicle is consistent with the description of the vehicle observed in surveillance footage obtained from the Smyrna Middle School, although a positive identification of the vehicle cannot be made from the surveillance footage due to darkness.”

On Sept. 28, 2020, surveillance teams saw Mrs. Haas and three children exit the hotel; she was observed driving a black Toyota Sienna with Delaware registration.

The same day, according to the affidavit, investigators were told by DFS “that a DNA profile recovered from one of the straws in the trash bag was tested by a forensic DNA analyst and it was determined that there was a likelihood ratio of 14 million (high likelihood) that the major female contributor to the DNA sample was the mother of the child whose rib bone had been discovered at the Little Lass Fields ...”

The finding, the affidavit said, was preliminary, “subject to a peer review before a final report is issued.”

According to the affidavit, Mrs. Haas had recently told a family member that the child “had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and committed to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia by a (doctor whose name was redacted) sometime in 2019.”

According to police, however, the hospital responded to an investigative subpoena and reported that the child “has never received inpatient or outpatient treatment at their hospital.”

A Smyrna police detective said in the affidavit he has not been able to locate any current medical records from a medical provider “during the period just prior to the discovery of the remains (including any time during 2019) or from any time after her remains were discovered.”

The detective said medical records for the other children covering before and after the discovery or remains were located, including wellness visits with a doctor in Dover.