COVINGTON — A mother charged with felony murder for killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2018 entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill in Newton County Superior Court on Aug. 26 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison without the possibility of parole, followed by life on parole.
Jennifer Bellah, then 31, was arrested on Aug. 28, 2018 at her home on Brown Thrasher Run in northern Newton County after she called 911 and told the dispatcher that she had just shot her child. Officials received the call at about 5:53 p.m. When they arrived at the home Bellah shared with her mother and step-father, they found her daughter, Natalya Bellah, dead from multiple gunshot wounds.
Bellah was evaluated by multiple doctors while the case was pending, according to a news release from acting Alcovy Circuit District Attorney Randy McGinley. “Should the case have proceeded to trial, all the mental health experts would have testified that Bellah was suffering from a serious mental health illness. While that was undisputed, some of the experts would have disagreed at trial as to whether Bellah met the legal requirements for a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Under Georgia law, in addition to the more common guilty and not guilty pleas, a defendant can also enter a plea of guilty but mentally ill or not guilty by reason of insanity. If a jury finds a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, the defendant is committed to a state mental health facility and evaluated every 30 days. If an evaluation finds the defendant no longer meets the requirement of inpatient commitment, they can be released.
When a defendant enters a plea of guilty but mentally ill or that verdict is returned by a jury, the defendant is placed into the custody of the Georgia Department of Corrections, which will be responsible for the mental health needs of the defendant. Therefore, a defendant under this plea or verdict is sentenced to prison but will receive mental health treatment while in prison.
The District Attorney’s Office, led by Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Amber Dally who headed the prosecution, reviewed all of the facts surrounding this case including all of the mental health evaluations, the body camera footage, and the interviews of the defendant and her family members conducted just after the crime. Additionally, the DA’s Office consulted with an additional well-known and well-respected expert to review the mental health issues. After this review of the case, the state and the defense reached a negotiated plea of guilty but mentally ill. This plea and sentence were accepted by Superior Court Judge Ken Wynne.
“The death of Natalya was a horrendous crime and this plea and sentence end the case with the appropriate outcome,” said McGinley. “I want to thank the Newton County Sheriff’s Office for their work investigating this crime. I must also separately thank all the deputies and others that first responded to the scene. They saw tragedy that is unthinkable to many people and continue to serve our citizens to help protect all of us.
“In addition to Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Amber Dally, the case was prosecuted by Investigator Lisa Brown, Victim Services Director Leslie Smith, and legal assistant Cindi Malcom,” added McGinley. “They worked countless hours on this case to ensure a just outcome.”