Jury finds Stallworth guilty on kidnapping, conspiracy charges in disappearance, death of Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 8:26 AM EDT|Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 3:10 PM EST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A federal jury convicted Patrick Stallworth on kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap a minor in connection with the 2019 disappearance and death of three-year-old Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney on Friday afternoon.

The jury found Stallworth not only planned to kidnap a child, but that kidnapping resulted in Cupcake’s death. A decision reached following four days of challenging testimony from more than 20 witnesses and viewing more than 100 exhibits.

“He will never walk free again,” stated Lloyd Peeples, Assistant United States Attorney and Criminal Division Chief. “We all went and spoke to the family afterward, seeing the expressions of relief on [the family’s] face, I wouldn’t have to get a paycheck for anything I did on this case, that’s the reward.”

The mandatory sentence for kidnapping which leads to death is life in prison without parole.

“He’s not in the best of feelings about it,” Defense Attorney Derrick Collins explained. “Of course, he’s a man of God.”

Collins knew the defense was in for an uphill battle from day one, given the nature of the case and the publicity.

“Whenever the defendant lies about a critical part of the case, this is usually the result,” Collins added. “I told my client that going in.”

The verdict comes almost three years to the day McKinney was kidnapped in Avondale.

“Several times during trial I couldn’t help but turn around and look at the family and notice there’s someone missing,” Peeples said. “A girl that would be six years old, in first grade with a lot of dreams. She’s gone, the defendant took her and the jury found his actions resulted in her death.”

Collins anticipates Stallworth will appeal, but isn’t sure if he will be involved. Collins is also appointed to represent Stallworth on a state capital murder charge.

The government now transitions to the next case, prosecuting Stallworth’s co-defendant Derick Brown, who will be tried on the same federal counts in November.

Stallworth will be sentenced in the coming months.

Follow our coverage of the trial from start to finish in this story.

Day 4: Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022 - final update:

Testimony by the government’s final trial witness revealed how close law enforcement came to not recovering Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney’s body. FBI Supervisory Special Agent and case agent Cynthia Bobe testified law enforcement received a tip that Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney’s body could be in a construction waste bin near Patrick Stallworth and his co-defendant Derick Brown’s apartment. As a result law enforcement began to sequester trash from that area in a special portion of the Jefferson County Landfill. Bobe testified agents walked to a nearby apartment complex undergoing renovations with two large construction waste bins. Coincidentally, the company came to collect the bins while the agents were on site. They were able to stop the transport and have those bins rerouted, one of which contained McKinney’s body.

Assistant United States Attorney Lloyd Peeples asked Bobe, “What would have happened if you came two hours later,”?

“I don’t think we would have found her,” Bobe responded, as the body would have been transported to a different landfill and mixed with other trash.

The government rested its case mid afternoon.

Statements made by the defense’s first witness quickly derailed after the government challenged their credibility and attempted to impeach their testimony.

Earlier Thursday, the government called Phyllis Cox, a former nurse at the Pickens County Jail where Stallworth’s been held ahead of this trial.

Cox told the jury Stallworth was sitting at the door of her office when he told her assistant, “I may have raped her, but I didn’t kill her – she did that,”.

Defense attorney Derrick Collins called that former coworker, Toni Crowell, as the first witness.

Crowell testified she didn’t remember Stallworth making that statement and the government began cross-examination.

“Have you ever told Mr. Stallworth you love him,” Peeples asked. “I don’t recall that,” Crowell responded.

Peeples then played jail phone calls to refresh her memory. Stallworth could be heard on the line saying, “I think about you, I even dream about you,”. The next call played Stallworth singing to Collins from the jail line.

“That was a church song,” Crowell sniped. “We mostly talk about church.”

Gasps and laughs were heard in the courtroom.

In other calls, Crowell and Stallworth could be heard saying ‘one-four-three’, shorthand for saying ‘I love you’ by using the number of characters in each word. Peeples asked if that’s what they meant when saying ‘one-four-three’. Crowell said it mean they cared.

The government continued playing calls to make their case for impeachment.

“Did he just say I need some of that hiney,” Peeples asked Crowell.

“I think he said honey,” Crowell responded.

Peeples replied, “Well that works too,”.

Before leaving the stand Crowell testified that she’s heard rumors that Stallworth had a physical relationship with another jail employee, which also happens to be one of her family members.

Collins called two character witnesses including a pastor who was also a longtime family friend and the defense rested.

The jury elected to leave early Thursday and return for closing arguments and deliberation Friday morning. Given the time allocated for closing arguments and charging the jury, they could begin deliberations around noon.

Day 4: Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022 - 12 p.m. update:

Thursday is expected to be the last day of testimony in this case.

The government’s final witnesses included a DNA specialist, an expert in emergency medicine and medical toxicology, law enforcement officers, and a nurse who treated Patrick Stallworth in the Pickens County Jail.

The government called Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jeannie Miller to introduce a text message reportedly sent by Patrick Stallworth on a tablet in the Jefferson County Jail.

Miller explained that inmates use tablets for live visits and pay to use the tablet to text, play games and order food.

Evidence showed a text was sent to Stallworth’s family member from his account that stated, “I’m sorry I did this! It was an accident.. That poor babies (sic) family.” The message was sent 11 days after Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney’s body was recovered.

The defense asked whether it was possible another inmate hacked into Stallworth’s tablet. Miller said it was possible, however he was in protective custody with only seven other inmates at the time.

The government worked to further prove Stallworth wrote this message by comparing other texts he sent, many of which use two periods, which corresponded with the text message in question.

The text aligned with other jail communication. Stallworth messaged with the same person the day before to set up a time to speak over the phone. The highlighted was sent to them after that phone call.

A nurse who treated Stallworth while he was being held at the Pickens County Jail testified she heard Stallworth make a startling statement to her assistant back in March.

Phyllis Cox said Stallworth was sitting at the door of her office when he told her assistant, “I may have raped her, but I didn’t kill her – she did that.”

Cox said she was in shock, but at the time didn’t realize what case Stallworth was connected to or why he was in the jail.

The defense honed in on the months it took before Cox reported the comment to her supervisor.

“You didn’t feel that was important to tell them immediately?” Collins asked.

“I was in shock,” she replied.

FBI DNA Analyst Constance Fisher tested the evidence taken from Stallworth’s apartment, which included the plastic mattress cover introduced on day two of the trial. In this instance, she was working to determine whether the suspects, Patrick Stallworth, his co-defendant Derick Brown and the victim, Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney, contributed to the biological evidence swabbed from that plastic cover.

Fisher testified that she used a reference sample from all three individuals and compared that to the DNA extracted from the blood on the cover.

Of the two stains tested, both returned high probability all three individuals’ DNA were on that evidence.

Defense Attorney Derrick Collins cross-examined Fisher, asking whether she could confirm if the strands of DNA could have been deposited there at different times.

“Yes, that’s possible,” Fisher responded.

Dr. Stacey Hail, M.D., an Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology Expert, testified about the biological response to certain drugs. On day three of the trial, the physician who conducted Cupcake’s autopsy confirmed the presence of methamphetamine and the drug Trazadone.

Hail stated that meth mimics the body’s sympathetic nervous system by activating the “fight or flight” response, noting individuals who are under the influence are typically erratic, paranoid, fidgety, and restless.

She added that children have a similar response, however they often cry inconsolably.

The government is expected to rest its case Thursday afternoon, jury deliberations could begin first thing on Friday morning.

Day 3: Wednesday, October 5, 2022 - final update:

Some of the information in this update may be difficult to read or inappropriate for some audiences.

Wednesday was an emotionally challenging afternoon in court. The government called FBI Special Agent Stanley Ruffin, who recovered 3-year-old Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney’s body.

Ruffin was part of a large team assigned to search a landfill where trash was dumped from local apartments.

“Did you know it was a body right away?” asked Assistant United States Attorney and Criminal Chief Lloyd Peeples.

“I saw what I thought was a doll lying there,” Ruffin described. “For a moment everything slowed down, I closed my eyes and tried to make sure what I saw was real.”

Ruffin had trouble speaking as he recalled Cupcake’s body being put in a bag to be transported for an autopsy. At this point, she’d been missing for 10 days.

Due to the nature of the case and the burden of proof the government must meet, they had to show the jury very sensitive images of Cupcake in the landfill. Quickly, several jurors became emotional, wiping away tears. The court quickly timed the shots, holding them for no more than three seconds each, warning the jury in advance of a new picture so they were prepared.

As a seasoned 26-year veteran agent, Ruffin admitted he’d seen a lot of things, however, everyone involved in this recovery had to go through counseling.

“I was involved in 9/11 and thought it would be the worst thing I had experienced, but I had never experienced something like that with a child,” he stated.

Ruffin retired shortly after this assignment in Birmingham.

Dr. Daniel Dye, M.D., the forensic pathologist who performed Cupcake’s autopsy, testified next.

Dye explained the decomposition in this case posed a challenge to his work. He confirmed Cupcake had a contusion on her head, pointing toward the hairline area, with swelling on the side of the face that could be associated with blunt force trauma.

Dye ruled the cause of death in this case asphyxia, or suffocation, and agreed that injury could be associated with the head being pressed down against a hard object. This is consistent with a recorded statement Stallworth made to police, explaining his girlfriend Derick Brown killed Cupcake by putting her hand over the child’s nose and mouth until she couldn’t breathe.

The toxicology report also found methamphetamine and Trazadone in the child’s system, stating this also played a role in Cupcake’s death.

The government called Birmingham Police Sergeant Talana Brown, who was also involved in interviewing both Stallworth and Brown in the initial phases of the investigation.

The prosecution started by playing an interview with Stallworth’s co-defendant Derick Brown. In the interview, Brown insinuates Stallworth dumped Cupcake’s body in a dumpster. Talana Brown testified she passed along that tip FBI.

During cross-examination, Talana Brown testified that Derick Brown lied to police early in the investigation. The defense worked to shift the focus away from earlier testimony, which questioned whether Stallworth was forthcoming with authorities.

Defense attorney Derrick Collins showed the jury a video recording of one of Derick Brown’s interviews with police.

“I’ll lie on him if y’all want me to,” Brown told police, referencing Stallworth. “I’m not going to jail for anybody... what do y’all want me to say?”

FBI Cellular Analyst Blake Downing was called as the last witness of the day. Downing was tasked with tracking Stallworth’s cell phone during the investigation. He testified about the technology used to determine Stallworth’s location through the phone signal.

The government and the defense are expected to rest on Thursday. The jury could begin deliberations Friday morning.

Day 3: Wednesday, October 5, 2022 - 12 p.m. update:

Some of the information in this update may be difficult to read or inappropriate for some audiences.

On Wednesday morning, prosecutors began to peel back the layers of the investigation into Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney’s disappearance and death, and how Patrick Stallworth and Derick Brown were developed as suspects in the case.

The first witness of the day: Birmingham Police Detective Jonathan Ross, who oversaw the investigation and massive search effort.

The prosecution spent more than an hour playing video and audio recordings from Stallworth’s interviews with police.

The jury first saw a portion of Stallworth’s initial recorded interview with police on Oct. 13, 2019. During that meeting, Stallworth said he was at Tom Brown Village, which correlated with the same day and time of Cupcake’s disappearance. Stallworth stated he walked around the area and saw children playing with a mouse, consistent with the video the jury saw on Tuesday, which showed a man approaching two toddlers at Tom Brown Village.

The second recording took jurors back to the interview room at BPD the day Cupcake’s body was recovered. Stallworth requested to speak to Ross.

Jurors attentively read the transcript off the screen as the lengthy audio recording played from that interview. During this meeting, Stallworth told police Brown brought a baby home and killed her.

Stallworth told officers he woke up and saw a baby on the couch next to Brown and didn’t know how the child made it to his house.

“I told her you need to go, you need to get this baby out of here,” Stallworth told police. “I said, this ain’t your baby.”

Stallworth said he went back to sleep and when he woke up the baby was gone.

“I asked her where it was, and she said she took it back,” Stallworth stated. “She kept trying to talk about the baby and how she wanted to keep the baby.”

He revealed to police that Brown wanted him to “do some things to the child,” referencing inappropriately touching the toddler.

An investigator asked Stallworth whether forensic examiners would find his DNA during Cupcake’s autopsy.

“She killed her,” sobbed Stallworth. “I tried to keep her from choking that baby.”

Police asked them to show how she choked the baby and he held up his hand over his nose and mouth, according to the recording.

Assistant United States Attorney Blake Milner paused the recording asked Ross clarify the general crux of their conversation.

“He watched Derick Brown put his hands over her nose and mouth and kill Cupcake, and then took out the trash?” Milner questioned.

Ross responded, “That’s correct.”

Defense attorney Derrick Collins cross-examined Ross, asking the detective to confirm the statements Stallworth made to police that were true. Ross agreed Stallworth told the truth about being in Tom Brown Village and stopping at various service stations.

The court recessed at noon, testimony will resume at 1 p.m.

While the witnesses haven’t moved as quickly as expected, the government still believes it will rest Thursday.

Day 2: Tuesday, October 4, 2022 - final update:

Prosecutors spent the remainder of the day two calling witnesses and introducing evidence that would put Patrick Stallworth at Tom Brown Village around the time Cupcake went missing.

The government used surveillance video to reconstruct a timeline of Stallworth’s day which started around noon. An initial video shows Stallworth purchasing candy at a service station, other video later that afternoon showed what appears to be the Toyota Sequoia registered to Stallworth’s co-defendant Derick Brown stop and speak to some girls walking near Hayes K-8 school.

A 14-year-old girl who attended athletic practice at Hayes testified that she and her friend were stopped by a man and woman in the Toyota as they walked home. Her testimony revealed the man, who’s suspected to be Stallworth, asked her if she’d seen someone they were looking for, then asked her if she wanted any candy. The teen said that’s when her friend spoke up.

“She told me to run,” the student said. “We ran down the alley in the projects.”

When asked if she could pick that man out in the courtroom, there was strong hesitation. Stallworth looks noticeably different from his mugshot taken in 2019.

A grainy piece of video from a neighbor’s surveillance camera showed a man approach two toddler-aged children playing in a field. The FBI Agent Jonathan Spaeth testified the time of the video correlates with the timeframe Cupcake was reported missing.

Defense attorney Derrick Collins cross-examined the Spaeth asking whether he could prove that was Stallworth on the video.

“It’s consistent with a person like Stallworth,” Spaeth replied.

Collins pressed Spaeth, questioning whether he could prove that was Cupcake.

“This was right near Cupcake’s house [where she was that night], this toddler is wearing shorts, I know she was wearing shorts.” Other evidence, including statements Stallworth made to police pointed to him being at Tom Brown Village that evening. According to video from one of his interviews with Birmingham Police, he and Brown were in Tom Brown Village searching for the father of Brown’s children.

The final video showed the Toyota Sequoia pull up to another service station after the time Cupcake was reported missing. Brown is seen exiting the passenger door and walking inside the business, which is consistent with testimony that Stallworth was driving that night.

FBI Agent Kyle King testified that he was part of the group that served a search warrant at Stallworth’s apartment on October 18, 2019, days after the disappearance. At this time, search efforts to locate Cupcake were still underway. The prosecution filed through pictures of the apartment as the FBI found it, showing a picture of a mattress with a plastic cover with a noticeable a red stain. The cover appeared to be consistent with the plastic material that often covers new mattresses.

Today the jury was able to see that plastic cover in person. Two FBI agents opened the evidence packaging and unfolded it in front of the jury. During opening statements, the prosecution said an expert witness would testify that both defendants DNA and Cupcake’s DNA were found on a plastic mattress cover inside Stallworth’s apartment.

The government called nearly a dozen witnesses Tuesday. They’re expected to have at least one more day full day of testimony before resting their case. The trial resumes Wednesday morning.

Day 2: Tuesday, October 4, 2022 - 12 p.m. update:

The government took jurors to the home where Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney was kidnapped to begin day two of the trial.

Shenita Long lived in Tom Brown Village in Avondale where McKinney and her family visited on Oct. 12, 2019.

Long testified McKinney and her daughter Ava were best friends. When McKinney and her family arrived, Long said Ava and McKinney ran to play at a birthday party outside her apartment.

When it was time for McKinney and her family to leave, Long said McKinney’s older brother ran inside and said he couldn’t find her.

Long said her daughter looked startled.

“I asked Ava - where was Cupcake,” Long testified. “She said ‘Cupcake got in the car with that man, he took her to get candy at the store.’”

The defense worked to keep this testimony off the record, arguing the validity of a statement made by a child, which was overruled.

Long recounted everyone feverishly began searching for McKinney, going door to door while others searched local service stations.

“People started searching and we found her shoes in the backyard, that’s when we knew she was really missing,” Long recalled.

Less than an hour later, Long called 911 to report McKinney’s disappearance.

Body camera video from the responding officer showed Long, McKinney’s mother, April Thomas, and several children outside searching for McKinney. The children gave the officer a vehicle description: a blue Toyota with a brown bumper. Evidence showed the vehicle registered to Derick Brown, Stallworth’s girlfriend and co-defendant, was a blue Toyota Sequoia with gold trim.

The government also called the FBI Case Agent Eric Salvador, who recounted the initial days of the investigation and how the agency developed its case.

Assistant United States Attorney Lloyd Peeples used Salvador’s testimony to introduce various surveillance videos he collected during the investigation. The videos reconstructed Stallworth and Brown’s movements throughout the day McKinney was kidnapped. One of the videos shows Stallworth purchasing candy around noon at a service station, which parallels to testimony McKinney was lured away with candy. Another video showed the defendants stopping at a service station in the blue Toyota SUV later that day. Brown was seen exiting the passenger door and walked inside the store. The court recessed for lunch after noon; testimony will resume after 1 p.m.

Day 1: Monday, October 3, 2022 - 8 p.m. update:

A sixteen person jury was seated in Patrick Stallworth’s federal kidnapping trial Monday. It took attorneys roughly five hours to strike a jury in the high-profile case. The jury composition: thirteen women and three men. Stallworth elected not to move the trial to a different division which would pull jurors from outside Jefferson County.

Attorneys spent only an hour with the jury late Monday outlining what they can expect to see during the trial.

During opening statements, Assistant United States Attorney Lloyd Peeples, Criminal Division Chief, promised jurors the government would present evidence that linked Stallworth with McKinney’s disappearance and death.

“I will warn you that some of this evidence will not be easy to see or hear, but in order to bring justice we are going to ask that you do exactly that,” Peeples explained.

The evidence previewed by the government included phone records, DNA evidence from Stallworth’s apartment, DNA evidence from McKinney’s autopsy and recordings from Stallworth’s five meetings with law enforcement.

Peeples alleged Stallworth’s statements to law enforcement shifted over the course of the investigation.

“Shortly after Kamille’s body was recovered, the defendant admits to knowing things that only Cupcake’s kidnapper would know,” stated Peeples.

Peeples pointed to new evidence, a text message Stallworth sent from the Jefferson County Jail.

“A text message sent ten days after Kamille’s body was found, a message that said, “I’m sorry I did this. It was an accident, that poor baby’s family”,” Peeples quoted to the jury.

Defense Attorney Derrick Collins quickly told the jury there’s only one fact established in this case right.

“The only fact is that Mr. Stallworth is an innocent man,” Collins explained to the jury.

Collins said Stallworth wasn’t involved in the crime and went as far to say the government doesn’t have the evidence to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I can tell you who did it,” Collins said of McKinney’s kidnapping. “She’s the author behind all of this - Derick Brown.”

Brown is Stallworth’s co-defendant and girlfriend. Collins shifted the blame to Brown, stating she couldn’t handle losing custody of her children, which prompted McKinney’s kidnapping.

“Evidence will show my client didn’t know [Brown] kidnapped Cupcake,” Collins told the jury.

The government called McKinney’s mother, April Thomas, as their first witness.

Thomas described October 12, 2019 to the jury; the day of McKinney’s disappearance and the last time she saw her daughter alive. Thomas and her children were visiting a family member’s house in Tom Brown Village where Cupcake often played with her cousins. As the sun began to set, Thomas asked her son to go tell Cupcake it’s time to go home.

“He was panicked, he came in and said he couldn’t find her,” Thomas recalled. “I looked and couldn’t find her - all I found were her shoes. I was sick to my stomach.”

Thomas was the first and final witness of the day. The government expects to call upwards of twenty witnesses over the course of the trial. Testimony resumes Tuesday morning.

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Day 1: Monday, October 3, 2022 - 8 a.m. preview:

One of the defendants accused in the disappearance and death of three-year old Kamille ‘Cupcake’ McKinney will stand trial this week on federal kidnapping counts.

Prosecutors allege Patrick Stallworth and Derick Brown used candy to lure McKinney away from a birthday party in Tom Brown Village in October 2019. Following an extensive city-wide search, McKinney’s body was recovered in a dumpster a week later. Forensic evidence indicated McKinney likely fought for her life; testimony revealed Stallworth’s DNA was found under McKinney’s fingernails. During a state court hearing, investigators also testified DNA evidence from McKinney, Stallworth and Brown was found on a plastic bed cover in the couple’s apartment. Both face federal kidnapping charges and capital murder.

A jury is expected to be seated in Stallworth’s federal kidnapping trial on Monday October 3. In previous hearings, Chief Judge Scott Coogler anticipated opening statements would begin Monday afternoon with jury deliberations slated for later in the week. It’s unclear how many witnesses will be called. Stallworth elected not to move the trial to Tuscaloosa, which summons potential jurors from Tuscaloosa and Walker Counties. The Department of Justice elected not to seek the death penalty in this case.

Leading up to trial, both Stallworth and Brown’s defense argued to suppress statements they independently made to police in the initial phases of the investigation. Stallworth’s motion was denied, a ruling hasn’t been entered in Brown’s case. Brown’s kidnapping trial is scheduled for November in Tuscaloosa, Brown’s change of venue request was granted earlier this year. After the federal cases are adjudicated, both are scheduled to stand trial on state capital murder counts. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty.