Mom facing trial in homicide of York County tot
A candlelight vigil is held for three-year-old who police say was killed by her mother.
A Jackson Township woman accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter — and who spent the past 15 months in a state mental-health hospital — is now facing trial in York County Court.
Regina Lester showed no emotion before, during or after her preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 20, where District Judge Thomas Reilly determined enough evidence exists for the case to move forward.
Defense attorney Suzanne Smith said she will now seek a competency evaluation for her client.
Lester, 32, is again in York County Prison, where she is being held without bail in the homicide of daughter Isabel Rose Godfrey, known as Bella.
After the hearing, Reilly noted that Lester owed nearly $500 in court costs in an unrelated criminal-mischief case and suggested giving her 10 days in prison in exchange for her court costs.
Lester, who has been in custody since her daughter's June 8, 2016, homicide, asked her attorney if she could instead do community service to pay off the court costs.
Smith quietly explained to Lester that she'll be in prison for the foreseeable future, after which the defense agreed to the 10 days in prison in exchange for closing out the case.
Competency issue: Smith told The York Dispatch she was appointed to represent Lester about two weeks ago and met her client last week.
The defense attorney confirmed she will be looking into whether Lester is competent to stand trial.
"She is confused about the process, and I need to get her evaluated," Smith said, adding she is unable to publicly discuss her client's medical treatment.
Lester appeared heavily medicated at Wednesday's hearing.
York County Prison medical staff had Lester moved to Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County in September 2016, according to court records.
She was naked and acting erratically when officers arrived at her home in the Chesapeake Estates mobile-home park, where they found Bella dead on the kitchen floor of Lester's trailer.
There were open packages of synthetic marijuana — known as K2 and spice — and a smoking pipe near the child's body, Northern York County Regional Police have said.
Deep bite marks: Bella suffered numerous bruises on her body and had several deep bite marks on her torso, according to court documents.
Before officers arrived at the scene, a naked Lester told a neighbor she had to kill Bella to get the "darkness" out of her, according to court documents. She also banged on a neighbor's door and said, "I need to kill your kids," documents state.
On Wednesday, Northern Regional Detective Michael Hine testified an autopsy determined Bella's cause of death to be a combination of blunt-force trauma, asphyxiation and a spinal injury.
Police have said that after being arrested at the scene, Lester was taken to York Hospital with an altered level of consciousness. She spent six days there before being taken to York County Prison.
Hine said he had a brief indirect encounter with Lester outside her home the day of the homicide and overheard her say, "I'll kill everybody in the ambulance like I killed her."
About a week later, Hine went to York County Prison to speak with Lester, but the detective did not interview her because she said she had retained an attorney, Hine testified.
Wrestled to ground: Also testifying Wednesday was Northern Regional Officer Stephen Lebo, who said he was the first officer to arrive at the scene.
He said when he got there, he saw two men restraining the naked Lester by holding her on the ground. The men flagged him down, Lebo testified.
"I assisted (them)," he told the judge. "We were able to get her cuffed behind her back."
Lebo testified he recalls Lester was twice given her Miranda warnings against self-incrimination and said that the first time, she indicated she didn't understand them.
He testified Lester — who an ambulance crew covered with a blanket — made incriminating statements at the scene.
"She admitted to biting and strangling her daughter," Lebo said, and told him that blood on her mouth was her daughter's.
He also testified he overheard her make a "general statement" that if Lebo didn't kill her, "she was going to kill more children."
Senior deputy prosecutor Chuck Murphy declined comment after the hearing, saying he can't discuss details about pending criminal cases.
Judge Reilly set Lester's formal court arraignment for 9 a.m. Jan. 26.
The background: Lester — who graduated from Spring Grove Area High School in 2005 and from York Technical Institute for business administration/hospitality in 2007 — is charged with homicide, child endangerment and making terroristic threats.
Bella's regular baby sitter, Andrew Day, who also lived in Chesapeake Estates at the time, told The York Dispatch that Lester confided to him synthetic marijuana was her drug of choice.
It was Day's home where Bella's 6-year-old brother fled for help, telling Day, "My mommy’s killing Bella — you need to come quick,” Day said a few days after the homicide.
'Don't hate me': “She ran out of the house naked and said, ‘I killed Bella. Please don’t hate me,’” Day said, prompting him to run inside.
“The house was all torn apart,” he said, and Bella was lying on the floor. “She didn’t have a pulse. I performed CPR.”
Day said he stopped CPR when it was clear Bella was gone.
He said he then turned his attention to Lester and went outside, where he and a neighbor had to restrain the naked woman.
“She wasn’t looking at me — she was looking through me,” he said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.