While Casey Anthony’s murder trial played out in front of the nation last week, another, quieter case involving a dead child was being tried in the same Orlando courthouse.
Amanda Brumfield, 32, the estranged daughter of Billy Bob Thornton, sat just 13 floors below in Florida’s Orange County Courthouse, accused of murdering 1-year-old Olivia Madison Garcia. On Friday, she was convicted of aggravated manslaughter.
How did a baby – Brumfield’s goddaughter, no less – die while in her care on that day in October 2008?
Brumfield claims Olivia’s death was an accident, and that the baby had simply fallen a short distance out of a playpen. But prosecutors said it would be “impossible” for that type of fall to cause the 3½-inch fracture found on the girl’s skull and the bleeding and swelling on her brain.
Since Brumfield’s arrest, the details of the case have been intertwined with questions about Brumfield’s relationship with her Oscar-winning father.
Thornton, 55, has admitted he wasn’t around for her when she was young; he and her mother, Thornton’s first wife Melissa Gatlin, split in 1980, and Brumfield has made clear the separation stung.
“He’s pretty much made me feel like I’ve been shut out,” Brumfield told Inside Edition in 2001. “I mean, I have nothing against him. I love him. He’s my father. I just want him to be around. I don’t want to cry, but it’s not fair to watch him on TV every day, and I can’t even get a call.”
Thornton, who has three younger children by two other women, has spoken about his guilt regarding Brumfield.
“She didn’t grow up with me, and so we were pretty much strangers for years,” Thornton told the U.K.’s Mail on Sunday in 2005. “Then a few years later, we reconnected, and it’s really good now.”
But the reconciliation didn’t take. After Brumfield was arrested, Thornton’s rep told CNN that father and daughter had been estranged “for quite some time” and offered a terse reaction quote from Thornton.
“Anytime a baby’s life is lost is an unimaginable tragedy, and my heart goes out to the baby’s family and loved ones,” the actor said in a statement.
Trial and Verdict
Indicted in June 2009 on several charges, including first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter, Brumfield went on trial last month in the shadow of the Casey Anthony murder case.
Brumfield’s public defender, David Barszcz, focused on the close relationship his client had with her best friend and Olivia’s mom, Heather Murphy, who even had a key to Brumfield’s home.
He pointed out that Brumfield kept diapers and a playpen at her home for Olivia, and relayed how she’d planned to take her to Sea World to celebrate her birthday, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
“The bottom line is they were very, very close,” Barszcz told the court.
In fact, the defense argued, Olivia was trying to climb out of the playpen and fell, causing something called “second-impact syndrome,” meaning the impact aggravated an existing injury, according to the Sentinel.
What exactly happened isn’t known, but Brumfield’s behavior that night was odd. She waited more than two hours to call police for help. Even stranger, after the injury, she painted Olivia’s toenails and fed her bananas, and then lay on the floor with her.
The jury found merits in both the prosecution and defense cases, convicting Brumfield of manslaughter but acquitting her of first-degree murder and aggravated child-abuse. Brumfield will be sentenced in July.