Starved, burned and beaten — videos show ‘life of torture’ that preceded Utah 3-year-old’s death

Ogden • When Ogden police Officer Sitka Hrabal went into Miller Costello and Brenda Emile’s Grant Avenue home in July, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

In the middle of a bare living room, a little girl lay dead on the beige carpet, swaddled in a pink blanket.

“I was told she was 3,” the officer testified Friday. “She didn’t look 3 to me. She looked like a Holocaust victim.”

The girl, Angelina Costello, weighed 13 pounds. Her ribs were visible, her legs and arms thin and covered in bruises. Burn marks on her face and chest were caked with makeup — an attempt, Emile later told police, to minimize the severity of her injuries.

“It’s the worst case of child abuse I’ve ever seen,” said Ogden police Officer Chris Bishop, who also entered the home July 6 after receiving a report that a child there was unconscious and not breathing.

(Sarah Welliver | Pool Photo) Brenda Emile and her attorney Jason Widdison listen as her second attorney Martin Gravis addresses Judge Michael DiReda during a preliminary hearing Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, in the 2nd District Court in Ogden. Emile and Miller Costello have been charged with aggravated murder in the death of their 3-year-old daughter.

The girl’s parents, 25-year-old Costello and 23-year-old Emile, are now charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, for her death.

During a Friday preliminary hearing, Deputy Weber County Attorney Christopher Shaw told 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda that Angelina died from a combination of blunt force trauma, burns, starvation and malnutrition.

The girl lived a “life of torture” at the hands of her parents, he said.

Much of Friday’s evidence hearing focused on photos and videos from the parents’ phones, which showed evidence of the girl being abused more than a year before her death.

In one cellphone video shot months before Angelina’s death, the small child is curled up on the floor, eating slices of an onion at Costello’s direction. Blood is running from her nose.

In another video, taken a year before her death, Emile is heard taunting the young girl with food — offering a forkful of scrambled eggs and then pulling it away.

“Haha, no food for you,” the mother tells the child.

Other videos show the parents playing on a bed with Angelina’s older brother and younger sister as she stands in the corner of the room, facing away from her family. Bruises and scabbing are visible on the girl’s arms and face in the footage.

After the girl’s death, Costello told police that he knew of the child’s deteriorating health, and he said his wife would get angry at him if he fed Angelina.

“You knew what the right thing to do was,” Detective Travis Kearl told Costello, according to a video played in court.

“I knew,” Costello replied.

“But you didn’t do it?” the officer asked.

“I didn’t do it,” the defendant said. “Didn’t do it.”

When the mother was questioned, she insisted that she never harmed her children, and that the girl’s bruising may have come from taking a tumble in a bounce house a few days prior. The burn marks, she said, were from sparklers that her children got too close to during a Fourth of July celebration.

The couple’s preliminary hearing is expected to continue Monday with testimony from a medical examiner and others. At the end of the hearing, DiReda is expected to rule on whether there is probable cause for the case to move forward.

During Friday’s hearing, an outburst from Emile’s mother led to the woman’s arrest. The woman was asked to leave the courtroom because she may be called as a witness at trial. Several minutes later, she burst through the courtroom doors and yelled, “You killed my baby, motherf-----!” DiReda ruled that she was in contempt of court and ordered her arrest.

Costello and Emile’s two other children were removed from the home in July and have been in the care of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.