Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

Citrus County mother charged in baby's beating death

Tired of her daughter's whining, Chelsea Maree Huggett took brutal measures to make her stop, investigators say.

On April 25, Huggett violently shook 2-year-old Aliyah Marie Branum at a house in the Citrus County town of Hernando, according to an arrest affidavit.

The next day, Huggett shook the girl again, then covered the toddler's mouth with her hand, slammed her head into the bedroom wall and head butted her.

Aliyah lost consciousness and never woke up.

On Thursday, detectives arrested Huggett and charged her with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. They cuffed the 21-year-old's hands in front of her because she is eight months pregnant.

During a news conference in Lecanto later in the day, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy called the case "horrific."

"This was a brutal murder of a defenseless child," Dawsy said.

Huggett initially lied to authorities, who arrived at the home on N Julia Avenue about 8 a.m. on April 26 and found Aliyah unresponsive, the affidavit says. Huggett told them her boyfriend had killed Aliyah with bug spray.

An emergency room physician at Citrus Memorial Hospital noted that the girl's face was bruised, her nose had been bleeding, and her left eye was swollen shut. Blood and a yellow fluid dripped from both ears. Her skull was fractured above the right eye and her brain had hemorrhaged.

The medical examiner concluded that the girl had died from blunt-force trauma.

Witnesses told investigators that Aliyah seemed lethargic on the evening of April 25. The witnesses said they talked with Huggett about the possibility that the girl had ingested insect killer.

Huggett called the poison control line but never took her to the hospital. When the poison control operator called back, Huggett said the girl was fine.

During an interview with detectives Thursday, the affidavit says, Huggett said she knew something was wrong with Aliyah but didn't take the girl to the hospital because she worried that staffers "would see all the bruises and (Huggett) would be arrested."

Huggett told detectives that at about 4 a.m. on April 26, she shook Aliyah because "she would not shut the f- - - up." After slamming her head into the wall and head butting her, she put her daughter's unconscious body on the bed and lay down beside her. She didn't call paramedics.

About four hours later, deputies responded to a 911 call about a child in distress. Citing an exemption that protects the identity of 911 callers, the Sheriff's Office would not say if Huggett or someone else made the call.

"The defendant told me she that she did not mean to kill the victim," Detective Kathleen Liotta wrote in the affidavit. "She just could not take her whining."

Dawsy said Aliyah's father serves in the Air Force and lives in California. Authorities had not been called to the house for domestic issues before last week, and records show Huggett does not have a prior arrest record in Florida.

In her booking photo, a tattoo is visible on Huggett's chest. The word, in black ink: "Aliyah."

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

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