Crime & Courts

Stepmom offers plea in death

A Wichita woman charged with first-degree murder in the death of her 2 1/2-year-old stepdaughter pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Katie Cornejo, 28, was charged with murdering Daytona Robertson in February 2008.

Cornejo stood trial for murder in April, but a mistrial was declared after a Sedgwick County jury was unable to reach a verdict. She had been scheduled to stand trial again next month.

In court on Tuesday, Cornejo entered a plea to the reduced charge that allowed her to accept a sentencing deal offered by prosecutors without technically admitting guilt. It is still considered a guilty plea.

She will face 55 to 247 months in prison, depending on her criminal record, when she is sentenced Dec. 4. If she has no prior convictions, prosecutors will recommend that she serve the minimum 55 months.

During her trial in April, the jury heard 4 1/2 days of testimony that showed Daytona was taken by ambulance to Wesley Medical Center on Feb. 22, 2008, with a severe head injury. She died several days later.

A physician called as a witness for the state said the injury was caused by a force comparable to a car crash or a fall from a second- or third-floor window onto concrete.

He said symptoms would have been obvious and would have shown up on the day they were inflicted.

A defense expert, however, told the jury that Daytona's injuries would have shown up over time. Cornejo's lawyer, Alice Osburn, suggested that the injuries could have occurred before the day she was hospitalized — during a visit with her biological mother, perhaps, or at a day care home.

Cornejo testified that she didn't strike Daytona and didn't know who was responsible for her injuries. When Daytona started vomiting that day, she said, she thought it was the flu.

She said that when Daytona started having seizures, she called 911 from her home in the 400 block of North Harding and asked for help.

The 12-person jury deadlocked 8-4, favoring a not-guilty verdict.