UPDATE: The jury came in shortly before 11 a.m and convicted Chad Little of first-degree murder for the beating death of 4-year-old Gracie Buss.
WATERLOO — Jurors are scheduled to return to the courthouse today to continue deciding the case of a Waterloo man accused of killing his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter in 2015.
Black Hawk County Attorney Brian Williams said Chad Allen Little was known to beat Gracie Buss, and on the morning of May 30, 2015, the girl suffered injuries she didn’t survive.
A medical examiner determined she died of blunt trauma to the head but couldn’t rule if the injury was the result of an accident or homicide.
During closing arguments Monday, Williams talked about the shape of a bruise on Gracie’s head and how it corresponds to a large ring seen on Little’s right hand in grainy surveillance video taken the day Gracie died.
“The injury to the left temple by itself was concerning without a plausible accidental mechanism. It was very fresh. … Going back to the ring, not suggesting it’s the end-all be-all, but it’s something to look at above everything else, especially when the defendant does this,” Williams said rolling video footage from a police station interview room showing Little removing a ring from his right hand before talking with an investigator.
Williams said other injuries pointed to abuse — a constellation of bruises and marks in different areas and different stages of healing and upwards of 100 retinal hemorrhages inside her eyes.
Defense attorney Chris Welch said Little was the one who placed a call for help, something the child’s mother, Kristi Buss, didn’t do. Welch said police and paramedics described Kristi Buss as unemotional when they arrived.
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“Kristi does not seem to be interested at all about her daughter, Gracie,” Welch said.
Little, 35, is charged with first-degree murder under the felony murder theory, meaning he is accused of killing the girl while taking part in the crimes of child endangerment or assault. He also charged with child endangerment causing death.
Jurors also have the option of finding him guilty on lesser charges of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment causing serious or bodily injury.
During closing arguments Monday, Williams said Little used another person’s name when he phone a hospital help line, saying Gracie had suffered a seizure, fell down stairs and was unconscious. He then fled the Downing Court townhouse with Gracie’s older brother before authorities arrived.
Williams said Little tried to control the narrative, telling others the seizure-and-fall story, but changed his story when questioned by police and said he wasn’t at the townhouse. He said he was out riding bikes that night with the brother and then at a friend’s mobile home nearby. That story eventually evolved to him being at Downing Court while the children were sleeping.
Friends and a neighbor testified they saw Little pick Gracie up by the hair once and another time snatch her up by the arm and hit her in the past. Her other brother said he would sometimes get her an ice pack after Little hit her, and their mother would cover the bruises with makeup.
The state also showed jurors an undated apology note from Little to Kristi Buss in which he said he was sorry for snapping on Gracie and losing his temper.
The defense said Gracie’s blood was found on the clothing of Kristi Buss and Gracie’s older brother, but no blood was found on Little’s clothing.
Jurors began deliberating on Monday afternoon.