Since April 2016, 33-year-old Texas father Anthony Michael Sanders has been behind bars, accused of doing the unthinkable: smothering his 2-year-old daughter to death. The alleged murder of little Ellie Mae Sanders took place in December 2015, and investigators believed that her father had suffocated the toddler by placing his hand over her mouth, possibly because he was angry that she had interrupted him while he was playing his video games.
Since he first became a suspect in his daughter’s death, Anthony Sanders denied any involvement. As PEOPLE reports, the Texas father told investigators from the beginning that he found his daughter already deceased after his then 5-year-old son told him that the little girl was sleeping and “wouldn’t wake up.” Prosecutors in the case of the death of Ellie Mae Sanders didn’t believe her father’s story, and he was charged with capital murder.
He has been an inmate at the Tarrant County Jail ever since, with a trial scheduled for September 11, but Anthony Sanders’ trial never happened. Instead, the Texas father was released from custody after the capital murder charges against him were dropped on September 13. As the Star-Telegram reports, Sanders was “elated” to be exonerated and freed, and according to his lawyer the prosecution dropped their case against him because of a tearful confession from his now 7-year-old son.
Court documents indicate that prosecutors in the capital murder case against Anthony Sanders began to falter in late August. That’s when Cassie Wright, the mother of the 2-year-old victim, made a phone call to prosecutor Dale Smith, telling him that her 7-year-old son had “confessed” to her that he had accidentally killed his baby sister with a “heavy pillow.” According to the little boy, he had rolled a pillow on top of his 2-year-old sister, and it was too heavy for him to remove from the toddler’s face. His mother didn’t believe him, but contacted prosecutors with the new information anyway.
“Cassie Wright said that this was the first time [her son] had told her anything like this. She does not believe [her son] and does not think that what he is telling her makes sense.”
Following up on the phone call from the victim’s mother, a prosecutor and investigator in the Sanders case interviewed the 7-year-old boy at his house on August 29. According to the pair, the little boy broke down in tears as he told them his version of what happened to 2-year-old Ellie Mae before his father was arrested for her murder.
According to the child, he and his sister had been playing with a so-called “heavy pillow” in their parent’s room. He said he accidentally rolled the rectangular pillow, which he said had something zipped into it to make it heavy, onto the 2-year-old’s face. At that point, he wasn’t strong enough to get the pillow off of the toddler, and he ran to get help from his father, Anthony Sanders.
By the time Sanders found his daughter, she was not breathing. According to his son’s confession, his father removed the heavy object from the pillow after finding it on his daughter. The 7-year-old said he told his mother the truth about his sister’s death “one or two years ago,” but never told anyone else because he was afraid of getting in trouble. When the investigator and prosecutor followed-up with Cassie Wright, she said that the 7-year-old had once told his counselor that “he killed his sister,” but no details of his claim were given.
On September 7, the prosecutor in the case against the Texas father met with medical examiner Dr. Marc Krouse to determine whether or not little Ellie could have been accidentally smothered by her older brother and not Anthony Sanders. According to the doctor, it was definitely possible.
“It’s possible that there is enough of a difference in the strength of a 5-year-old to overpower a 2-year-old.”
The medical examiner added that there was no way to disprove that the 2-year-old had been smothered by her brother rather than her father.
The Tarrant County district attorney’s office has declined to comment about the dismissal of the capital murder charges that were against Anthony Sanders. The Texas father’s attorney Tim Moore did go on the record to say that he believes that his client will face no further legal action in connection with his daughter’s death.
“That’s obviously up to the district attorney’s office. It’s my understanding that it’s over; there will be no more charges coming out of it.”
According to court documents that led to the arrest of Texas father Anthony Sanders, his daughter had a variety of physical injuries at the time of her death, including bruises “all over her body,” blood behind her ear, and two adult-sized bite marks on her back.
[Featured Image by Tarrant County Jail]