The Death of Kelsey Smith-Briggs

Today started like any other day when it is "blog day."  I searched, and searched until I skimmed a case in which caught my attention.  Admittedly, when I do that I simply do a search to possibly refresh my memory of the name on my list.  I just knew I had found it in the case of Kelsey Smith-Briggs seeing that she was just under three years old when she was killed.  At first glance this was a case of CPS (or DHS, whichever you prefer to call it) and the courts let another child slip through the system.  I soon learned that that assessment was only half correct.  

Another thing I quickly learned was that this case was not cut and dry no matter how you looked at.  For every website I found, I found another that countered the information in the previous one.  Upon further research I was hearing that unless I could find a court transcript written by the actual state of Oklahoma it was not likely I would get any better information because people on all sides of this story have been accused of manipulating them to make their side look better.  I was never able to find any sort of appeals papers, which I have often stated that for me are my best thing to sort through the facts, but I have to say that I am not sure that even if I had found them I could have put much stock in them.

So, as I have done with cases in the past where I have come across factual issues (although I have to say I am unsure I can think of one this bad), I will start out with giving the undisputed facts that we do know, and then go from there.

We know that on October 11, 2005 two and a half year old Kelsey Smith-Briggs was declared dead at 4:45 in the afternoon after being brought to the hospital around 4:00 from her Meeker Oklahoma home.  We also know that throughout the year of 2005, beginning in January there had been multiple allegations that Kelsey was a victim of child abuse.  In January of 2005 she had been removed from the home she shared with her mother, Raye Dawn Smith and placed in the home of her paternal grandmother, Kathie Briggs.  By April of 2005 she was taken from that home and while officially reports say placed in care of the state, unofficially it seems she was either in the home of Raye's mother, or possibly grandmother (I could not determine). In June of 2005 despite protests from CPS to the courts, Judge Craig Key returned Kelsey to the home of her mother and new stepfather, Michael Lea Porter.  According to Judge Key, the abuser was "unknown" and for reasons he apparently later stated in a book (we'll go into that later) thought she should be with her mother.  He did order CPS to have regular contact and a CASA advocate was assigned to the case.  

On October 20, 2005, nine days after Kelsey had died Michael Lea Porter was arrested. His initial charges were for 1st degree murder and sexual assault.  Near the beginning of 2006 ( I could not determine an exact time) Raye was also charged with Enabling Child Abuse.  In the end Porter made a plea deal with prosecutors in February of 2007 to which he agreed to plead guilty to enabling child abuse in exchange for a 30 year sentence, as well as testify against Raye.  Raye faced a jury trial and was convicted in July of 2007 on enabling child abuse and was given a sentence of 27 years. Neither Michael nor Raye were charged or convicted of murder. 

As I stated in the beginning, beyond that it is hard to tell exactly what happened to Kelsey, or even who exactly was the person responsible for her death.  To add to that, while few dispute that she was abused for months leading up to her death there is speculation as to who was responsible for that and those rumors do not stop at Michael Porter or Raye Smith.  Stories and "facts" seem to alter depending on who each person believes..

Kelsey Briggs was born December 28, 2002.  It is undisputed that her parents, Raye and Lance Briggs were already divorced by the time she was born.  In fact, at the time the divorced was filed, by Raye, in May of 2002 it was stated she was not pregnant, but apparently she was.  It is possible that she may not have known as by the time of the filing she would not have been very far along, but I suspect by the time the divorce was finalized the end of July she did know.  At any rate in April of 2003 DNA results had determined that Kelsey was in fact Lance's child.  One site that I visited stated that the pushing for the DNA test came more from Lance's mother, Kathie, than from Lance himself, but there is nothing to substantiate that for sure.  At any rate, at some point after this he did in fact have his surname added to Kelsey's name but from all accounts neither her parents or extended families truly ever got along.

Some reports state that Lance was abusive to Raye, which led to their divorce. Once again depending on what story you read, and/or believe Lance was either abusive to Raye; Raye and Lance were equally abusive and irresponsible; or he was not abusive and the only documented proof that he was in which he pleaded guilty has been disputed as being false, apparently even by Raye.  In the end however, Lance has never been accused of abusing Kelsey in any way what so ever so his abuse or lack there of when it comes to Raye is really moot as far as the case is concerned. Lance is one of the few people in this story who it seems everyone agrees was not responsible for her death or any abuse leading up to her death.

In June of 2003 Lance was remarried and Raye had moved back in the home of her parents.  Sometime in mid-2004 Raye's father died and Raye moved out into an apartment with Kelsey.  In late 2004 Lance, who was in the Army Reserves, was scheduled to go to basic training and deploy to Iraq.  There has been a lot said in articles and websites about what exactly Lance's military background was.  Some have accused him of being involved in drugs and receiving a dishonorable discharge but this has not been confirmed and seems like a lot of "slinging mud" and seeing what sticks between the families.  As I said earlier, Lance has never been accused of abusing Kelsey or involved in her death so while he may or may not be the most stellar individual his military record is of little concern here.  In fact, the only reason that I mention it is because it was because of this deployment that in January of 2005 Lance's mother, Kathie, filed for grandparent visitation with Kelsey and the courts granted it.

Around the same time that Kathie Briggs started getting visitation with Kelsey, Raye got a new boyfriend, Michael Lee Porter.  In January Kelsey was taken to the ER by Raye. Raye said she had fallen from her crib.  She was examined and had suffered a broken collarbone. It is possible that it was also reported that she had a variety of bruises on her lower back, buttocks and thighs.  What happened next is confusing.  One site I read said all of this occurred on the 17th and that Oklahoma Department of Human Services were brought in and confirmed the abuse and Kelsey was placed in the care of Lance's mother, Kathie.  

However, another site, that was very "pro Raye," and I made separate notes from and advised myself to be cautious claims that this occurred on January 10th and that neither the doctors or social services were concerned or suspected abuse.  The site went on to say that Lance and his new wife, Ashley took Kelsey back to the ER on January 14th suspecting abuse and that on the 24th Lance filed for and received emergency guardianship of Kelsey.

No matter who obtained guardianship of Kelsey or when it occurred it is undisputed that Raye was to have no contact with Kelsey for two weeks.  She was then allowed supervised visitation but amazingly by the middle of March she was allowed unsupervised visits.  Then on April 14th, Raye took Kelsey back to the ER saying that her sister in law took Kelsey to the zoo and she had twisted her ankle.  Once again the general information and what the pro-Raye site report differ a bit.  According to the general information that both of Kelsey's legs were x-ray'd and it was found they were in different stages of healing, yet both were broken. Kelsey was placed in two leg casts.The pro-Raye site says that the doctors only reported it as a sprain and that Raye herself reported this to CPS the following day.  

The site went on to say that Raye and Michael Porter were married on April 18th and that while she walked in the wedding Kelsey had a visible limp (I cannot confirm this to be true). They then claim that from the evening of the 18th until the 21st Kelsey was in the care of Kathie Briggs who claims she could not walk but did not take her to the ER.  Smith would claim that on the 25th Kelsey was still not walking and it was then diagnosed that she had two "bilateral tibia fractures."  Raye would claim that the orthopedic surgeon said it was consistent with the zoo injury on the right leg and putting too much weight on her left leg to support her right from the injury and leg casts were placed then.  However, according to the pro-Raye site it was not considered to be abuse until another doctor examined the x-rays on May 2nd.

In the meantime Kelsey had been displaying some odd behavior while still in the guardianship of Kathie Briggs. Kathie was quoted as saying to a judge that upon sending Kelsey to her mother's home, and her return she had taken pictures and had witnesses so that any injuries were documented.  But, Kelsey had developed a habit of scratching herself, picking at her nails, and biting herself and others.  CPS was still involved through all of this and while Kathie Briggs believed the behaviors and injuries were occurring or a result of Kelsey's time with Raye and Michael Porter, the Porters were blaming Kathie Briggs.  CPS, for their part, could not say for sure but considering the behaviors, as well as the fact that Kelsey was losing weight and her hair was falling out they decided to remove her from Kathie Briggs' home also just to be safe.  Now, most accounts say she was put in "state's care" but it sounds as if either Raye's mother or grandmother was then granted guardianship.  There are allegation's from Raye's family that Kelsey was malnutrition when she was removed from the Briggs home but to be fair I could not substantiate this, or officially the cause. 

On June 15, 2005 there was a court hearing in which Judge Craig Key decided to place Kelsey back in the home of her mother and stepfather.  CPS officially had recommended this was not a good idea but the judged was quoted as saying the abuser was "unknown" and placed her in their home.  The fact of the matter is that the fact that he said "the abuser" means that he,along with most people, believed Kelsey had in fact been abused.  He also had to have known that it appeared to either be someone in the Porter home or someone in the Briggs home and yet he placed her in one of those homes.  

Kathie Briggs apparently made it her mission to make sure in 2006 Judge Key was not re-elected based on his decision to place Kelsey back in her mother's home which ultimately led to her death four months later.  Judge Key went on to right a book after he lost his bid for re-election called "Deadly Game of Tug of War."  It is said that within the pages he defended his decision.  Key then went on to open a private law practice but soon it seems he was building a not so good reputation.  I found comments on the Internet dating back to 2012 where people were asking about his practices and having complaints while others commented that his reputation was in the toilet in the area when it came to his practice.  In 2013 he was charged with 24 counts that included embezzlement, forgery, theft, and even harboring a fugitive.  He struck a deal and received five years in prison and five years of probation.  He was also required to pay over $500,000 in restitution, fines, court costs and victim compensation.  

At any rate, as I said, in June Kelsey was returned to her mother's home.  It appears that not much happened for a while.  Then on August 19th,  it was supposedly documented that Raye, Michael Porter and Kelsey were in a car accident.  Kelsey apparently came away with several bruises.  Some claim that not all of those bruises were from the accident and those who support Raye claim that the Briggs took pictures and the opportunity to continue the allegations that Kelsey was being abused in the home.  Keep in mind that CPS was still in contact with the family apparently and it seems they had found nothing alarming as of yet. Supporters claim that the media supported the Briggs family and rumors began flying about the abuse once more but they claim the injuries were from the car accident.  Raye reportedly took Kelsey back to the doctor on August 23rd as she was refusing food and on the 29th a CPS reports stated they saw a bruise on her face, a mark on her nose and while she had lost weight and seemed timid they apparently attributed it all to the car accident ten days earlier. 

At this point I should also point out a few other health and behavior issues that have been alleged.  While the pro-Raye site I read went deep into how much Raye had been trying to help her daughter and commented that once back in her home Raye reported that Kelsey was experiencing nightmares and was continuing with her "self injury" behavior. They seemingly glossed over that Kelsey was supposedly also suffering from seizures.  Again, I cannot confirm this information but it was claimed that the CASA representative assigned to the case claimed she had seen Kelsey have one in July.  Keep in mind that this was after being returned to her mother, but before the auto accident in August, so not something that could be attributed to that. With all of the information I found trying to paint Raye as a loving caring, and concerned mother I found it odd that there never seemed to be much talk about the fact that her daughter was supposedly suffering from seizure or any information about any doctor visits concerning this.

The only people that know for sure what happened on October 11, 2005 are Raye Dawn Smith and Michael Lee Porter.  Apparently the two were only together for a few short minutes during the day.  Porter would first report that he returned home from work at about 2:45 pm.  He claims that Raye and Kelsey were laying down in the bedroom taking a nap but that Raye soon woke up.  Both say that Kelsey, who was not potty trained completely at the time was simply dressed in a shirt.  She had no diaper or pull up on.  Raye would later say this was because they had been running low on them.  Both Raye and Michael agree that Raye left just after waking up and went to pick up Michael's 7 year old daughter from school and that Kelsey was still in the bedroom sleeping.  There are reports from some that this is the first time ever that Raye had picked his daughter up from school, but once again I cannot say if this is true or not. 

For Michael's part he says that 15 or 20 minutes after Raye left the home he heard a sound from the bedroom and went in the room to look.  It's been claimed that he has said he was concerned she may be having a seizure, but again, I cannot confirm this.  He would claim that he found Kelsey turning blue and not breathing.  He says he attempted CPR. Reports are that instead of calling 911 he called Raye's mother, Gayla who then told him to call 911. The emergency call came in at 3:15 and within just a few short minutes a paramedic truck arrived where CPR was continued.  Just soon after an ambulance arrived.  Some reports says she died on the way to the hospital and this may be true but officially she arrived at the hospital around 4:00 in which they continued to try to revive her.  She was officially declared dead at 4:45.

In the meantime Raye had returned home as Raye was being loaded into the ambulance.  It would be later said that she noticed at that point Raye had a pull up or diaper on and she asked Michael about it, knowing she did not have one on when she left.  She claims his response was he placed one on her so no one would be suspicious or think anything of it.

According to hospital personnel, law enforcement and others Michael did not console Raye at the hospital.  There were also reports that he paced near his truck outside mumbling things such as "I just hope I wasn't too rough with her" and "She's never going to forgive me." For his part he would claim these statements were reference to his CPR techniques and just the situation in general knowing he had been home alone with Kelsey.

Upon her death an autopsy was performed. Some claim that Michael had objected but considering his opinion, nor really Raye's either, would have mattered in a legal sense I am not sure not only if this is true or that it matters at all.  The autopsy concluded that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the abdomen and the manner was homicide. Some reports also say that there was sexual assault present but that is disputed by some and I have no way of officially confirming it. Considering the history over the past several months leading up to her death and all the allegations that had flown, authorities really needed to look deep, but even on the surface it looked like the perpetrator had to be either Michael or Raye.  Most bets were on Michael considering at the exact time of the report to 911 Raye was not home.  But, as others have pointed out, she had only been gone a few minutes and Michael himself had not been home long. Raye had been with Kelsey the entire day, apparently most of that time alone.  There are reports that a CPS worker had been in the home that day and saw nothing to be concerned.  If those reports are true the worker left around 1:30, leaving Raye definitely alone with Kelsey until Michael got home around 2:45. 

About a week after Kelsey's death Michael's daughter talked to her guidance counselor at school.  I do not know how this conversation between the two came about or if law enforcement was already there but it was apparently at this time that she stated she had seen her father abuse Kelsey to the point of making her vomit on one, if not more, occasions. She reported at least two incidents of Michael hitting Kelsey near the time of her death.  It also seems that a search warrant was served on the Porter home and it was reported that child pornography was found on the computer but no one, including Michael was ever charged with this and once again I cannot confirm with all certainty that it was in fact found.  On October 20th, Michael Porter was arrested and charged with sexual assault and 1st degree murder.

I know things already seem "sticky" and confusing but it got even more so after this. It has been said (although as with so much of this not confirmed) that initially when spoken to Michael said he had never seen Raye hit or lose her temper when it came to Kelsey.  It seems that after his arrest Michael may have been granted bail because there are several reports that by January of 2006 there were email correspondence  between Michael and Kathie Briggs and possibly some of her relatives. It does appear that the email situation did happen and all but confirmed but I am lost in determining if he in fact was out of jail or someone gave him the emails.  I find it odd that if the child pornography allegations were true, that despite he not being charged with that, that he would be allowed access to the Internet while out on bail.  But at any rate the allegations are that there was correspondence between the two and sometimes soon after this Michael began talking (he had not previously) and informed law enforcement that it was his belief that Raye had done something prior to him coming home that caused Kelsey's death.  I cannot say if Michael ever admitted abusing Kelsey himself, although if we believe his daughter, he did, but that does not mean that Raye was innocent herself.  Then again I am not outright accusing her because I cannot say.  My point is that even if Michael did abuse her it did not mean that Raye did not.  

By February of 2006 Raye was then charged with enabling child abuse and Porter was in the process of making a deal.  Porter agreed to plead guilty to enabling child abuse, the same charge Raye was facing and received a sentence of 30 years.  This not only prevented the district attorney from seeking the death penalty but because the sexual assault charge was dropped it also prevented Michael from having to register as a sex offender upon his release.

April of 2006 was pretty eventful.  Law enforcement had obtained a warrant to exhume Kelsey's body and perform a second autopsy (although I did not discover that they found anything new) and while dealing with her own legal troubles Raye gave birth to a son.  While I cannot confirm that it was done, officials had said her child would be taken into state custody upon release from the hospital.  

Raye went to trial in July of 2007.  She was ultimately found guilty on her charges of enabling child abuse and received a sentence of 27 years.  She has filed several appeals since then and all have been denied.  Lance Briggs sued CPS, among others for wrongful death and received a large settlement. In 2010 Raye filed a document asking to be given half of the settlement money that remained after attorney's and expenses were paid saying she wanted to repay her family for the money they spent for her legal fees and then would give the remaining to a children's hospital and an infant crisis center. As far as I can tell she lost that case also.

As I do with so many of the cases I blog about I went to the state department of corrections to see what I could find out on the defendants.  When it came to Michael I could not find him and I am unsure why.  I cannot imagine that he is out of prison but it is possible that he is one of the few prisoners that their information is not public.  For Raye's part, I did find her. One of the things I found interesting was the big smile on her face in several of her mug shots.  I will say that prison seems to be treating her well as she looks nicer now than she did several years ago, and it's not just the smile.  All I could find on the site regarding her release was a notation as to when her sentence began and when it would "end."  That date stated 7-16-2034 which would be her full 27 years.  Whether she serves that is unclear as I do not know the Oklahoma prison laws specifically. 

As I have repeatedly said throughout this blog the information and facts are confusing and it is difficult to determine just what happened.  One website devoted to Raye claims that she was "convicted of her husband's crime."  It is full of many accusations against Kathie Briggs and even goes as far as saying that because of Raye's belief (then and now apparently) that Kelsey was being abused in her care she had lost sight of noticing anything with Michael Porter.  The allegation in that indicated that it was Kathie Briggs' fault Raye did not notice Michael Porter was abusing Kelsey.  I find that allegation absurd.  Many of the pro-Raye comments and sites seem to throw so much at Kathie Briggs as well as behaviors from Lance Briggs that they gloss over any responsibility Raye may have had.  They can not hardly pin Kelsey's death on the Briggs but they seem to do a lot of diverting attention to them and away from Raye and just simply say Raye missed the signs in her own home.  In the same respect I found one comment from supposedly a close friend and supporter that said Raye was starting to get suspicious of Michael but then could not explain if this was true why she would leave Kelsey alone with him.

For my part I just cannot say what I think truly happened involving this child and whether I believe Raye was directly involved.  I will say that in one sense I believe the part that Raye could have missed what was going on in her home but I think it came from her own hatred and anger towards the Briggs family that blinded her and not from the fact that there was evidence to support her claims they were abusive to Kelsey. There was bad blood apparently between the two families for years.  I would also like to think that Raye was not directly involved in abuse relating to Kelsey as it seems it did not start until Michael came into their lives.  However, in the same respect Michael has apparently claimed that Raye was the abuser but wanted it to look like it was Kathie Briggs, and the fact that Michael came into their lives at around the same time Kathie Briggs got visitation rights could make things seem foggy on either side.  It is possible that Raye was so upset that Kathie Briggs got visitation that she wanted her to look bad but then again it seems almost like a stretch. To make that assumption we have to assume that she only abused her to frame Kathie and unless she continued it because she "liked" it or got used to it, what would the point have been on October 11th?  

I often talk about fairness and legalities when it comes to my blogs.  I am about people receiving fair trials and convicted for their part in their crimes and not convicted for crimes they have not committed.  However, I am only human, and many times those thoughts go out the window when the death or abuse of a child is involved.  There are those that simply say Raye missed the signs in her home and she is paying for a crime that her husband committed, a crime she was not involved in.  As I said above there is a part of me that believes it is possible that she "missed it" as many staunchly point out, but then there is the part of me that says if she had not had so much anger towards the Briggs family and paid more attention to what was going on in her own home she would not have missed it and she deserves to be where she is. 

There was so much conflicting and unsubstantiated information on this case that I had difficulty determining what was fact and what was not.  One thing I read said that Raye had been told to keep Michael away from Kelsey and the indication was that this was from either CPS or the courts.  As I said I cannot confirm this but I would find it odd if this was an order that the judge would have put her back into her home, but then again by the time he made this choice they were married and Judge Key had decided not to listen to CPS recommendations anyway.  

We hear so much about cases in which CPS dropped the ball and a child was put in danger. By all accounts it seems that they were on this case fairly quickly and made quick decisions to put Kelsey's welfare in the best hands they could determine. But, first it was all the inner-fighting between the families and then the ruling by the judge that made that difficult.  In the end we know for a fact that Kelsey Smith-Briggs died while in the home occupied by her mother and her mother's husband so do not take the fact that I mention the inner family fights to all be wrong and unwarranted.  From the outside looking in it looks like Kathie Briggs had it right.  She was accused of stalking Raye at some point during all of this, but I am unsure as a mother and grandmother who would do what it took to keep my family safe I would not have done the same.  One of the funniest (if you can call it funny) things I saw on the pro-Raye site referred to the fact that Kathie had said she took pictures and had witnesses every time Kelsey left her home and when she returned to document any kind of abuse or marks to cover herself, as well as have proof.  The site went on to say that Raye did the same but none of her pictures turned out and even made a snide remark that Raye wasn't a good photographer like Kathie.  Keep in mind these are still allegations being thrown against the Briggs family ten years after Kelsey's death.  At this point, or any point after October 11, 2005 does it really matter who took the better pictures?  Kelsey is no longer here and was never given the chance to grow up, get married and have children of her own.  She died either at the hands of her mother, or at the hands of a man her mother brought into her life, but in her mother's home.  Stop the accusations.... stop the mud slinging and just take responsibility.

Comments

  1. I saw this post while looking at another article you had posted. Kelsey died in 2005, and her mother, Raye Dawn and stepfather, Michael Porter were both convicted and are serving long sentences for the killing of Kelsey. I noticed some years ago that the hatred of the 2 families was all over the internet.
    The best account of this is a book called "Who Killed Kelsey?". It was written by 2 reporters from Oklahoma City, who are not biased members of the families.

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