Share story

PINEVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A prosecutor has dropped a murder charge against a Missouri woman in the 2001 death of her toddler foster daughter, saying he doesn’t have a viable case because certain witnesses and evidence aren’t available.

McDonald County Prosecutor Bill Dobbs said Wednesday that the pathologist who performed an autopsy on 21-month-old Megan McCullar has since died and there was no way to get the autopsy report introduced as evidence in the case against Jessica Newhard, The Joplin Globe reported.

When the girl died, Newhard was arrested and charged with felony child abuse. The charge was dropped by a former prosecutor because of problems with the case, including the child’s contact with as many as four adults the day she died. The case was sealed so that charges could be refiled if new evidence was found.

Newhard’s ex-husband, Kevin Newhard, told investigators that she confessed to him in 2013 that she had “snapped” and killed the girl, who had been removed from her mother — Kevin Newhard’s stepsister — and placed with the Newhards months before she died. Kevin Newhard’s allegation about his ex-wife’s confession led Dobbs to charge her with second-degree murder in 2016.

When announcing his decision to drop the charges, Dobbs said other witnesses, such as paramedics and law officers, were no longer being available to testify. But the problem with using the late pathologist’s autopsy was the biggest obstacle to trying the case, he said.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Jessica Newhard called her then-husband on Sept. 18, 2001, and told him to come home from work. When he arrived, he found Megan convulsing on the floor. The girl later died from “blunt cranial trauma” from shaken impact syndrome.” Jessica Newhard told detectives that Megan might have fallen trying to climb a bookcase in her room. But the investigators noted an indentation in the living room wall that may have been left by a high chair violently shoved into the wall with the child seated in it.

During a custody dispute after he filed for divorce, Jessica Newhard’s attorney, Ross Rhoades, questioned Kevin Newhard’s credibility, noting that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Globe reported more than 15 years ago that Jessica Newhard passed two polygraph exams regarding the death of Megan McCullar.


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe,