The Tragic Reason Billy Bob Thornton's Daughter Went To Prison

Amanda Brumfield, the estranged daughter of Academy-Award-winning screenwriter and actor Billy Bob Thornton, sat in an Orange County Florida courtroom waiting to hear the jury's verdict. It was May 2011 and she was on trial for first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, per The Orlando Sentinel. The girl, a 1-year-old named Olivia Garcia, was Brumfield's goddaughter and the child of her best friend Heather Murphy.

Brumfield, who was 29 at the time, said it was a tragic accident — the girl tried to crawl out of her playpen and landed on her head — but police and prosecutors alleged the fall couldn't have caused the severe skull fracture that killed Garcia, per The Miami Herald. The jury found Brumfield not guilty of murder and child abuse but convicted her on the aggravated manslaughter charge. That October, a judge sentenced Brumfield to 20 years in prison. "I miss Olivia just as much as anybody does," she told the court at her sentencing. "She was a gift and a treasure, and now she's forever my angel."

The night in question

On the night of Olivia Garcia's death, Heather Murphy put Olivia into a playpen at Amanda Brumfield's Ocoee, Florida home around 11 p.m. The toddler often stayed with Brumfield, according to the Innocence Project of Florida. After the toddler's fall, Brumfield reportedly didn't see any injuries on Olivia. She gave her a snack, painted her nails, and lay on the couch with her until 2 a.m. She attempted CPR on the girl when she realized she was unconscious. Brumfield's husband called 911 when he got home a little while later. Olivia died at a nearby hospital about 45 minutes after Brumfield first noticed she was unconscious.

At trial, her attorney told the jury the fall could have exacerbated a previous, unknown injury and that Brumfield was herself a mother with two biological children and a stepchild who would never "deliberately harm a child," per The Orlando Sentinel. Police and prosecutors said the short fall from the crib couldn't have caused the child's large skull fracture and swelling and bleeding in her brain, per People. They also pointed to the several-hour delay in calling 911, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

Relationship with Thornton

Amanda Brumfield is Billy Bob Thornton's oldest daughter from his first marriage to Melissa Gatlin, according to People. The couple split up in 1980 with Gatlin alleging "incompatibility and adultery on his part," Hollywood Life reported. Afterward, Thornton was seldom in his daughter's life. "He's pretty much made me feel like I've been shut out," Brumfield told "Inside Edition" in 2011 (via People). "I mean, I have nothing against him. I love him. He's my father. I just want him to be around." Thornton, in a 2005 interview with the U.K.'s Mail, admitted he hadn't been a very good father to her. "She didn't grow up with me, and so we were pretty much strangers for years," he said (per Reuters). 

At the time of Brumfield's arrest, Thornton distanced himself from her. His publicist, Arnold Robinson, told CNN that the actor and Brumfield were estranged and that Thornton "has had no contact with her for quite some time." Thornton, according to his rep, said that "anytime a baby's life is lost is an unimaginable tragedy and my heart goes out to the baby's family and loved ones."

A post-conviction deal

After her conviction, Amanda Brumfield — who maintained her innocence from the start — attempted to have her case retried without success. Attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida, a justice reform non-profit agency, began representing her and filed a motion with medical evidence showing that a short fall like the one Brumfield said Olivia suffered could "cause serious injury and death," according to the Innocence Project of Florida.

In 2020, state prosecutors cut a deal with Brumfield that allowed her to get out of prison after having served eight and a half years if she agreed not to continue to try to have her case overturned. "I had fought so long," she told The Orlando Sentinel after her release. "They're very quick to put you in prison, but the wheels of justice to let you out are so slow." Even if Brumfield had managed to get her conviction thrown out, she could have ended up serving another 20 years in prison if she lost her case at a second jury trial, per the Innocence Project of Florida. "It came to that point where it's what was best," Brumfield told The Orlando Sentinel. "Do I continue to fight at the expense of my family needing me there ... or do I do what's best for my family and go home and be there for them?"