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Story by Larry Fitzpatrick - The Oregon Herald
Published on Friday December 10, 2010 - 6:40 PM
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One of the two people accused of abusing their five children — one died allegedly from that abuse — has pleaded guilty to aggravated murder. 25 year old Michelle N. Smith has pleaded guilty to fatally torturing her fiance's 3-year-old daughter.

Smith of Sandy appeared last week before Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Robert Herndon. A Clackamas County grand jury had earlier inceased charges to aggravated murder. Smith could now face the death penalty. She was also charged with three counts of murder by abuse for allegedly starving Alexis "Lexi" Marie Pounder, whose battered, emaciated body was found Jan. 9 in a home owned by her parents south of Sandy. She also faces four counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment for "deliberate cruelty" by withholding food, physical care and medical attention.

Deputies who investigated the incident allege that one or both adults beat and starved the toddler — until she died. An autopsy performed by Dr. Larry Lewman of the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office revealed the little girl died of "physical and nutritional child abuse."

Her 27 year old fiance, Donald Lee Cockrell was charged with one count of murder by abuse, for allegedly subjecting Lexi to "blunt force trauma and chronic starvation." Cockrell was also charged with two counts of criminal mistreatment for allegedly withholding care.

The couple pleaded not guilty at separate arraignments Tuesday in Clackamas County Circuit Court. Both are being held without bail in the Clackamas County Jail.

The remaining children were taken into protective custody, said Sheriff's Detective Jim Strovink and remain in a state shelter.

Both Cockrell and Smith worked in 2008 as security guards for DePaul Industries. The state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training has suspended their security guard licenses.