DAYTON, OH — On August 30, 2005, 25-year-old China Arnold got drunk after a fight with her boyfriend, Terrell Talley. At issue was the paternity of Pallas Talley, Arnold’s 28-day-old infant daughter.
Following the argument, Arnold placed the baby inside a microwave oven and turned the device on high for more than two minutes. Little Pallas died from internal burns the next day.
Arnold told investigators she had no idea what happened to Pallas, but she did concede, “If I hadn’t gotten so drunk, I guess my baby wouldn’t have died.”
An autopsy determined that Pallas could only have been injured as she had been by a microwave oven. The child’s DNA also turned up all over the inside of the device. Police promptly arrested Arnold. A judge set her bond at $1 million.
Throughout Arnold’s first trial in 2006, she maintained her innocence. Her defense focused not on what happened to Pallas, but on the inability to establish conclusively that Arnold had in fact committed the crime.
The ploy proved semi-successful. One of Arnold’s three sons testified that a neighbor boy had placed Pallas in the oven. The claim stirred up enough doubts to result in a mistrial.
In due time, though, the accused boy’s mother proved that her son had not been anywhere near Arnold’s housing complex on the day of the incident. This fact figured importantly in Arnold’s second trial in 2008.
So, too, did testimony from Arnold’s cellmate at the Dayton Correctional Facility. The other convict stated that Arnold told her she put Pallas in the microwave because she feared Terrell would leave her if he discovered the baby was not his.
In addition, prosecutor Daniel Brandt said Arnold told police point-blank:
“I killed my baby… I wrapped her up. I put her in the microwave. I turned the microwave on and I went outside. She fit right in.”
The second trial ended with a guilty verdict for aggravated murder. Judge Mary Wiseman sentenced Arnold to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After Arnold’s attorneys asked for leniency with the parole ruling, the judge stated: “No adjectives exist to adequately describe this heinous atrocity [that is] shocking and utterly abhorrent to a civilized society.”
Regardless, Jon Paul Rion, Arnold’s lead lawyer, told the press, “She has faith in the system, she is strong, and will continue to fight until her innocence is proven.”
Once again, the defense strategy almost worked. An appeals court reversed the conviction in 2010, citing trial-procedure errors. Arnold’s third trial, in 2011, nonetheless concluded once more with her being convicted of aggravated murder.
A gambit in 2013 for a fourth trial went nowhere. So, too, has Arnold, who remains incarcerated in Dayton.