By Kim Wilhelm
KWCH 12 Eyewitness News
9:22 PM CST, November 18, 2010
(DODGE CITY, Kan.)
You can’t help but smile when you see Natalie Pickle’s picture. Photos show a three year-old girl with curly red hair and a wide, toothy grin across her face.
On November 19, 2008, Natalie was home in Dodge City with her mother’s boyfriend. The boyfriend told investigators Natalie fell off the bed. She died the following day. Now, nearly two years later, charges have yet to be filed in the case.
Dodge City resident David Buchanan lived across the street from Natalie. He would often see her outside playing. He remembers that November day in 2008.
“The police cars and ambulance came,” said Buchanan. “We didn't know anything was going on until then.”
The legal battle began immediately. The boyfriend’s attorney hired a private pathologist who wanted to observe the autopsy. The autopsy was supposed to be done at the Sedgwick County Regional Forensics Science Center in Wichita. But the facility does not allow outside experts to observe practice and procedure.
An official with the facility says “it’s an exceedingly rare request”. After some legal wrangling, Natalie’s autopsy was moved to Topeka.
The exam showed Natalie died of “blunt trauma to the head” with “scalp bruises…not explained by a simple fall.” The report says some of the bruises are “consistent with impact from an object rather than fall to the floor.”
Dodge City police ruled it a homicide.
Why No Charges?
Two years after her death, why haven’t charges been filed? Ford County Attorney Terry Malone won’t comment only to say he’s still working on the case. But talk to any prosecutor who has worked child death cases and we may get a better idea of what’s happening.
Harvey County Attorney David Yoder is not involved in Natalie’s case. But in his nearly 30 year career, he’s handled hundred of child abuse cases.
“My job is to seek justice,” said Yoder. “My job is to avenge a child's death. But who did it?”
Yoder says answering that question many times is difficult.
“It’s not like what you see on TV,” said Yoder. “Medical evidence is not scientifically certain.”
In court, both sides can use the same medical evidence to prove innocence or guilt. Pinpointing exactly when a child was injured can be tough. That can make a case like Natalie’s more complicated than it first appears.
“You're not going to have who did it, how and when 90 percent of the time no matter how good your forensic evidence is because there's just not that medical certainly exists,” said Yoder.
Even though no charges have been filed in Natalie’s case, another court case has surfaced. It’s a child custody case between the mother and the boyfriend for his biological child. In it, he talks about what happened to Natalie.
Paperwork shows the boyfriend says Natalie must’ve been injured by her mother earlier that day. He says when she fell off the bed, it triggered those earlier injuries.
To prove his point, he brings up the mother’s past criminal history which includes at least ten allegations of assault or battery. One of Natalie’s babysitters says she “witnessed (the mother) hit Natalie so hard, she flew backyards and hit the wall very hard.”
Even Natalie’s paternal grandparents told investigators they were “talking about making a report to SRS due to the things they had seen and heard from Natalie and that (the mother) was mean to her.”
The mother, who declined our interview request, tells us she had nothing to do with Natalie’s death. She says a number of people, including herself, saw Natalie earlier that day and the girl was fine.
The boyfriend also declined to talk with us. A KBI background check shows he was convicted of battery in 2008.
There’s no statute of limitations on murder. Yoder says it’s vital for a prosecutor to have everything they need for a case before filing charges.
“You only get one shot at it,” said Yoder. “You can’t try the same person twice for a crime.”
Those who loved Natalie Pickle will continue to wait for answers - whenever those answers come.
Copyright © 2013, KWCH-TV