Following an investigation that lasted nearly a year, the father of an 8-year-old Oak Hill girl who died the day after Christmas 2018 has been arrested in connection with the girl’s death. Also arrested were the man’s live-in girlfriend, a 2019 Mrs. Oak Leaf Festival, and the girlfriend’s sister.
The victim, Raylee JoLynn Browning, had reportedly once drunk from a toilet to stay alive and had been the subject of several Child Protective Services inquiries, a criminal complaint filed Monday in Fayette County Magistrate Court states.
A medical examiner wrote that the girl had an infection and had had a case of sepsis that should have been evident to caregivers when she died.
An Oak Hill doctor alleges in the complaint that the girl may have been the victim of medical child abuse. She was on seven medications at the time of her death, police say, many of them to treat mood disorders and severe forms of autism. At the time of her death, she had bruising, burns and lacerations on her body, and her rectum was torn, police documents allege.
On Tuesday, police arrested the child’s father, Marty Browning, 34, and a woman identified as her stepmother, Julie Dawn Titchenell, 36, of Hilltop, Fayette officials reported. On Monday night, Oak Hill Police Department (OHPD) arrested Sherie Titchenell, 35, of Hilltop.
The three are charged with one count each of death of a child by parent and child neglect causing death. All three bonds were set at $100,000.
From 2011 until her death on Dec. 26, 2018, Raylee had been taken to various hospitals for injuries, police state in the complaint.
In Nicholas County, she had asked school cafeteria workers for extra food because she was not allowed to eat at home.
Prior to her death, she was forced to sleep on the floor in a diaper. She was hit with metal objects and wooden spoons and belts and forced to stand silently in a hallway while being homeschooled.
She reportedly spent her last Christmas being sick in a bedroom, where police would later find a sex toy in a drawer and a claw hammer within reach of a mattress.
Julie would be unable to tell police how either item had ended up in the girl’s room, which she had reportedly shared with Sherie.
Raylee’s mother, Janice Wriston, was not actively involved in her life, according to police documents. Her father allegedly told police he left the bulk of Raylee’s care to Julie and Sherie.
Fayette officials told The Register-Herald that Nicholas County teachers had made multiple referrals to Nicholas Child Protective Services (CPS) but that it was unclear to Fayette investigators on Tuesday if Nicholas CPS had opened a case on the child when she lived in Nicholas, prior to moving to Oak Hill.
Fayette investigators have requested any case files from Nicholas CPS but have so far been unsuccessful in obtaining them, according to one official.
West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services Communications Director Allison Adler said Tuesday that her office could not comment due to confidentiality issues.
Those laws were enacted to protect the privacy rights of children.
A voice mail left by The Register-Herald at Nicholas CPS offices was not immediately returned on Tuesday afternoon.
At the time of her death, Raylee lived on Park Street in Hilltop with the three adults and with Julie’s three children, who were not related to Browning.
At least one of Julie’s children, a daughter, is now in foster care, according to the complaint.
The daughter told authorities that her aunt, Sherie, was the “boss” of the household and provided care for the children. The girl said Sherie had a particular dislike for her because she was of a different race, and of Raylee because she was not Julie’s child.
The girl said Sherie often withheld food from Raylee, punished her during homeschool, which did not provide an adequate education, by making her walk the hallways and that Raylee was often struck by adults using various objects.
Sherie once poured a milkshake on Raylee's head while visiting a friend, court documents state.
Browning and Julie, who were not legally married in December 2018, had once “grounded” Raylee for three days. The girl later said the punishment had been Sherie’s idea.
“Her grounding was that she wasn’t allowed to drink anything,” the girl reportedly told a therapist. “I caught her drinking from the toilet a few times, and I feel that she got that infection from that water.
“I told her that the water was dirty, but I guess she was just so thirsty.”
The stepsister said Browning and Julie had singled out the little girl for punishment and abuse by hitting her with wooden spoons and metal objects.
The girl said Sherie forbade Raylee from eating when the girl was attending school, but Raylee would sometimes ask for extra food at school.
Although Raylee’s teachers had never reported any behavioral problems, according to the police complaint, Julie told police that Raylee purposefully urinated on mattresses and “random” items in the house and that she would “pick at herself” and self-mutilate while watching others for a reaction.
Julie said that a physician had told her that Raylee’s behavior was “acting out.”
She also reported that Raylee had once broken her femur by kicking a wall during the night.
According to a physician, the criminal complaint states, the femur break is a common injury in child abuse cases.
Sherie told police that Raylee had self-mutilated since she was two years old, which was the time Sherie had entered Riley’s life.
When the victim urinated in the bed, Browning had the idea of making her sleep on the floor in a diaper, according to Julie’s daughter.
The girl, who is now with a foster family, said Julie was agreeable to the girl returning to sleep in a bed but that Sherie made her continue sleeping on the floor.
The girl said the adults had told her to lie to CPS workers about Raylee’s home life, and she did so because she was scared. She said that she and the victim had been taken out of school and homeschooled because Sherie allegedly said she could think of no more lies for the two girls to tell to CPS workers.
Raylee had not been examined by a pediatric endocrinologist to find the reason for her suddenly stunted growth.
Sgt. James Pack, an OHPD detective, wrote that police launched an investigation on Dec. 26, 2018, when Plateau Medical Center contacted OHPD to report that the 8-year-old girl had been brought via ambulance due to cardiac arrest.
Doctors reportedly told Pack that a woman had carried the child out and presented her to doctors and had informed them that the little girl was “not breathing.”
Pack reported the doctors had taken note of the unemotional way in which the woman allegedly spoke of the child’s death.
Sherie allegedly told Pack that she and all four kids had slept in Raylee’s bedroom, where Raylee had a bottom bunk on Christmas Eve. Browning said Raylee was sick on Christmas Day and spent it on a mattress in the bedroom.
Sherie allegedly told police that she had awakened at 9 a.m. on Dec. 26 and had given Raylee breakfast in her bedroom and had given the girl three prescribed medicines. She said the girl got in the shower at 10:30 a.m. and that her nose started to bleed in the shower.
Sherie allegedly said that the nose bleeds had started several weeks earlier and that a doctor had told her that the bleeds were a result of Raylee's medication.
Sherie allegedly told police that Raylee fell when she got out of the shower, and Sherie was unclear on whether she cleaned up the nosebleed in the shower or out of the shower with toilet paper. She allegedly said she carried Raylee to her bedroom, propped her up with pillows and on a mattress that were on the floor.
Raylee was shaking “nonstop,” according to the complaint, and her pupils grew small. Her lips began to turn “white,” Sherie allegedly told police, and she was making a “snoring” noise that a 911 dispatcher would later hear.
Sherie allegedly told the police that Raylee’s blood sugar often dropped, but Browning said it was not checked daily. Sherie allegedly reported that Raylee had in the past eaten until she vomited and would then go and eat and vomit again.
Sherie allegedly said Raylee’s glucose had read 125 on the morning she became ill.
Sherie allegedly said she called 911 immediately and that she had contacted Browning, who was at work, and told him to go directly to the hospital but that he and Julie met at the house instead.
According to the police complaint, Sherie drove Julie’s children to a house at Mount Lookout after Raylee was taken to the hospital.
Pack alleged in the complaint that Sherie’s statement on the timeline of Raylee’s sickness on Dec. 26 was contradictory and raised suspicion.
Statements by Browning and Julie also contradicted Sherie’s timeline, according to court documents.
Julie said when she woke up at 9 a.m., nobody else was awake. She said she had received a call and texts from Sherie, starting around noon, that Raylee was not breathing. She went to the house to make sure Sherie had a ride to the hospital, but an officer told her to go to the hospital, she reported.
In the complaint, Browning allegedly told police that he had gone to the hospital, spoken with Pack and then left to talk to the two women. Afterwards, he went to his father’s house to lay down and then he and Julie went to the local office of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources where Sherie was being interviewed.
Browning could not explain bruises on the girl’s body except to say she self-mutilated.
At the time of her arrest, Julie was the 2019 Mrs. Oak Leaf Festival. She had been 2018 Ms. Oak Leaf Festival, a pageant official confirmed.
Pageant officials announced on Facebook Tuesday evening that they had removed Julie's title following her arrest for allegedly causing Raylee's death.