Mother, boyfriend plead not guilty in death of 2-year-old, whose remains were found in Mississippi woods

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

A Louisiana woman and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty in the killing of her 2-year-old daughter, whose remains were found in a wooded area of Mississippi after her mother reported her disappearance.

Lanaya Cardwell and Phillip Gardner were indicted Jan. 27 on second-degree murder charges in the death of Nevaeh Allen and entered their pleas Monday, news outlets reported. Gardner, 30, was also charged with obstruction of justice.

The 24-year-old mother initially told police in September that her daughter went missing from her family’s Baton Rouge apartment. After a dayslong search across two states that involved nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies, authorities located the girl’s remains buried under trees near the bank of a river.

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The Advocate reported Cardwell admitted to police that she punched her daughter in the torso after finding her playing with contact lenses, which led her to hit her head on a cabinet.

Gardner wasn’t able to wake the girl from a nap later that morning, according to the newspaper. He told police he tried to revive her but when his attempts failed, he put her in a suitcase, drove her — and a 3-year-old sibling — across state lines and placed her body in a “makeshift grave deep in the woods.”

Cardwell and Gardner are both jailed in East Baton Rouge Parish on $375,000 bonds, online records show.