DOVER, Del. (AP) — A Delaware woman who pleaded guilty to killing her 3-year-old daughter and leaving her burned remains on a softball field was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in prison.
Kristie Haas, 31, pleaded guilty earlier this year to murder by abuse or neglect and abuse of a corpse in the death of Emma Grace Cole, who prosecutors say endured a life of starvation and torture.
“I’m sorry for all the hurt that I inflicted and the pain that I caused,” said Haas, who also pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child for her mistreatment of Emma’s half-siblings.
Haas faced a minimum mandatory prison term of 15 years, and a possible life sentence, but Superior Court Judge Noel Primos imposed the 30-year sentence that was recommended by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
“I cannot presume to comprehend the grief and the anguish that Emma’s family members here today have been put through because of Ms. Haas’ actions,” Primos said. The judge agreed with prosecutors that Haas deserved more than the minimum sentence because of the “excessive cruelty” of her crime.
“I knew everything was wrong, and I was so messed up because of everything I did,” Haas told the judge, recalling the day she left her daughter’s body on a softball field in Smyrna. “I thought I could get away with it, to be honest.”
“I wasn’t OK then,” Haas added, recalling her drug abuse, mental health issues and relationship with Emma’s stepfather, Brandon Haas. “… I’m trying my best to be better than I was.”
Brandon Haas, 41, was sentenced later Thursday to four years and one month in prison. He pleaded guilty earlier to one felony count and three misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Haas tearfully apologized for not going to authorities when, according to the defense, Kristie Haas told him on July 27, 2019, that “something was wrong” with Emma.
“I do not know what happened between Kristie and Emma,” he said, adding that Kristie implied that it would be easy for people to blame him, as a stepfather.
“I was told repeatedly that they were not my children,” he said.
Emma's body was found in September 2019 by a person walking a dog through a softball park near Smyrna Middle School in central Delaware. At the time, Emma lived with her parents and siblings near the field.
Kristie and Brandon Haas were arrested in Pennsylvania in October 2020. Authorities say the couple withheld food and medical care from Emma while also subjecting her and her siblings to excessive forced exercise and inappropriate physical discipline.
Prosecutor Kevin Smith said that after finding Emma unresponsive. Kristie Hass tried to revive her with a cold shower and stopped Brandon Haas from calling 911. Haas later threw away her daughter’s clothing, stating, “That’s it for Emma. Emma’s not coming back,” Smith said.
Haas also lied to family members about Emma’s absence after the killing, telling them the toddler, who Haas said “had the devil in her eyes” was in a facility for children with mental illness.
Before sentencing Haas, the judge heard from Emma’s father, Joshua Douthitt, her great-aunt and former guardian, Tanya Conley, and Haas’ mother, Belinda Johnson.
“I will never comprehend why Emma Grace had to lose her life,” Douthitt said tearfully. “I don’t know what this beautiful little baby could have done to deserve this.”
Smith read a letter submitted by Conley, who described Emma as a happy, healthy child who loved Paw Patrol, swimming, playing with cats, and being sung to at bedtime.
Now, Conley wrote, she sings “You Are My Sunshine” at Emma’s gravesite, rather than her bedside.
In her testimony, Johnson only referred to Haas as the surviving children’s mother. She urged Primos to reject a prosecution request that Haas not be allowed any contact with the children during her time in prison.
Primos agreed that the prosecution’s request was inappropriate, noting that all three surviving children will be adults in less than 10 years. He ordered that Haas not have any contact with them while they are still minors unless authorized by an Indiana court with jurisdiction over their custody.
Defense attorney Patrick Collins said that while it is easy to paint Haas as a “monster,” her own life has been “a nonstop disaster since childhood.” Collins said Haas was abused and abandoned as a child, subjected to extreme poverty, abused by intimate partners, and suffered from mental illness. The “true monster” he suggested, was drug addiction, adding that she and Brandon Haas were addicted to methamphetamine.
“Kristie wanted to be a mother, but she wasn’t honest with herself that she was very ill equipped to be a mother,” Collins said.