Haas child-endangerment case transferred to Delaware Superior Court

Former Smyrna resident Brandon L. Haas, center, leaves the Kent County Courthouse with his attorney John Deckers, left, early Friday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — Details remained sparse Friday as the case of a former Smyrna resident charged after a child’s remains were found last year was transferred to Superior Court.

After Brandon L. Haas, 38, waived his preliminary hearing in the Court of Common Pleas, a Delaware Department of Justice motion to close the courtroom was approved by Judge Anne Hartnett Reigle and a 30-minute hearing commenced behind closed doors.

Deputy Attorney General Kevin Smith emerged from the session and declined comment “due to the ongoing investigation.” Mr. Haas remained silent when asked for comment as he left the courthouse with his attorney John Deckers.

The judge’s decision to bar the public from sitting in on the proceedings followed a five-minute private huddle with the judge, Mr. Smith and Mr. Deckers. A Smyrna police detective remained in the courtroom when it was shuttered and the hearing began.

Mr. Haas and Kristie L. Haas, 28, were each charged with endangering the welfare of a child and tampering with physical evidence regarding the death of Emma Grace Cole, who was found deceased at the Smyrna Clayton Little Lass softball complex Sept. 13, 2019, according to authorities. Both were arrested in Pennsylvania in October and extradited to Delaware, law enforcement said.

Indiana court records show Ms. Haas is the mother of Emma Grace. Mr. Haas is not the biological father. Social media posts indicated they married in May 2017.

Smyrna police said last month that a preliminary investigation indicated the child was 3 years old when she died.

On Oct. 13, Judge Reigle approved the state’s motion to keep records regarding Mr. Haas under seals. The judge ruled “that the state has met its burden under Court of Common Pleas Criminal Rule 55(A) and shown good cause for the record to be kept under seal.”

Justice of the Peace Judges Alexander Montano and Christopher A. Bradley approved Smyrna police requests to seal warrants for Mr. Haas on Sept. 29 and Ms. Haas on Oct. 15, according to records.

Orders by both judges noted that “the Court has determined the release of any portion of this warrant, at this time, could adversely affect the ongoing investigation, among other reasons, by influencing or stifling of witness information, reveal confidential information regarding witness information, reveal witness identification, jeopardize the safety of both the defendant and any witnesses and cause possible tampering of evidence.”

Ms. Haas waived a preliminary hearing last week, the DOJ said. She remained incarcerated at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle on a $100,000 bond as of mid-afternoon Friday, according to VINELink.

Mr. Haas was released from custody after posting an $8,000 cash bond Oct. 9, according to court records.

No future court dates were set in either case, the DOJ said Friday. Spokesman Mat Marshall said no pleas have been entered in the case.

Mr. Marshall also said that the DOJ does not generally comment on ongoing investigations.

The Delaware Office of the Public Defender said this week that Kent County head attorney Anthony Capone is representing Ms. Haas.

A group of prosecutors from the Felony Trial and Special Victims’ units have been working with law enforcement in the matter, the DOJ said.

The case drew widespread attention as Smyrna police looked for clues after the child’s remains were found by a man walking his dog in 2019 near the softball fields.

In November 2019, authorities publicly released facial reconstruction images to assist the investigation. Forensic artists with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children created images that were released, and the organization also examined a CT scan of the child’s skull.

At that time, police said information from the public had waned after an initial flurry of tips both locally and regionally in the early investigation.

Smithsonian Institution forensic anthropologist Dr. David Hunt also issued a report after examining the remains, while working in concert with the Delaware Division of Forensic Science. That report pointed to the remains being of a Caucasian or Hispanic female, likely between 2 and 5 years old, police said at the time, and an anthropological exam indicated that the child may have suffered from chronic illness or illnesses.

A private “Justice For Emma Grace” Facebook page, which started shortly after the arrests were announced, has approximately 1,700 members as of this week. After the page’s launch, members identified themselves as being from at least 20 states, along with residents of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, Germany and Finland, as well as many area towns.

According to Little Lass Softball’s Facebook page, Emma Grace Memorial Field will be dedicated during a ceremony at 3 p.m. Nov. 21 at the complex at 887 Duck Creek Parkway.

Softball complex leaders in mid-October placed a memorial wreath for Emma at the site and posted on Facebook that a more permanent memorial would be coming.

In the days after the wreath was placed, the tribute grew with flowers, stuffed animals and two candles encased in glass with the image of St. Jude. In the center of it all was a message that read “In Memory of Emma Cole.”