CRESTVIEW — The State Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday it will seek the death penalty against Cory Hagwell, the 29-year-old Crestview man charged in the killing of 3-year-old Adelynn Merrell.

William "Bill" Eddins, State Attorney for the First Judicial Circuit, said in a press release Tuesday morning that the state has decided to seek death penalty for Hagwell. He is charged with first-degree murder of Adelynn, the daughter of his girlfriend, Destinee Merrell, who died at their home east of Crestview last month.

According to the State Attorney’s Office, the charges arose from an incident Nov. 9. The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office was called to Hagwell's and Merrell's home and was told the child was missing. Adelynn Merrell was found dead several hours later in some woods less than a mile from the home.

She had suffered blunt impact injuries to her head and body. The investigation revealed Hagwell had kicked the child in the head and then confined her in a closet, where she was found dead several hours later, according to his arrest report.

Hagwell then removed Adelynn’s body from the home and dumped her in the nearby woods off a street local residents had named "Trash Road" because of the abundance of garbage discarded there, according to law officers. Two other children in the home were found to be severely malnourished, and a jailhouse interview with Destinee Merrell uncovered that the children were routinely confined to bedrooms and closets.

Merrell, the girl’s mother, was charged with three counts of child neglect, one count of aggravated child abuse and one count of accessory to murder after the fact. She remains in the Okaloosa County Jail and has been denied bond.

Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason, who will prosecute the case, said the state has decided to move forward with the death penalty against Hagwell because of several factors.

"In Florida, to seek the death penalty the state must be able to prove certain aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt," Mason said. "In this case there were several that were met, so the committee met and we felt that the death penalty was appropriate in this case."

Mason said those factors included that the victim was under 12 years of age, the death had occurred during the commission of a felony (aggravated child abuse), Hagwell was in a position of authority over the little girl and that "this particular crime was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel."

"At the end of the day, we hope that justice is served in this case," Mason said. "We believe the death penalty is appropriate."

In addition to first-degree murder, Hagwell also has been charged with two counts of child neglect and two counts of aggravated child abuse.

Hagwell’s defense attorney, Chris Klotz of Stevenson Klotz Law Firm in Pensacola, said Tuesday after the death penalty decision was announced that the defense team's investigation was ongoing.

"When the state seeks the death penalty, it requires the defense to put on extra evidence with concern to mitigation and the appropriate penalty in the case, which requires a great deal of extra investigation and work," Klotz said. "We will begin undertaking all of these steps immediately and are doing the legal analysis to see whether or not seeking the death penalty in this case is appropriate or not."

Mason said there are three pending death penalty cases in Okaloosa County.

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