Shortly after 2-year-old Macy Grace Ditty died at a North Carolina hospital in December, her mom asked a photographer to create "afterlife" photos as a way to help her grieve. One image, made with a photo superimposed onto another, shows Jeanie Ditty, 23, strolling through a cemetery hand-in-hand with her deceased daughter, who looks angelic. Another shows Macy Grace laying a hand on Ditty's shoulder. "She offered to pay, and honestly, I couldn't do it," Sunny Jo tells ABC News. "It was a gift for what I thought was a grieving mother." It turned out to be what Jo calls the "biggest mistake" of his career. Some two months later, he learned that Ditty and her boyfriend, Zachary Keefer, 32, had been charged with first-degree murder and negligent child abuse in Macy Grace's death.
Authorities say the toddler arrived at an emergency room with "life threatening injuries consistent with child abuse," including bruises all over her body, on Dec. 2. She died two days later, reports the Fayetteville Observer. On March 23, a medical examiner determined the toddler's death was a homicide, and Ditty and Keefer were charged. "I was horrified, then angry I'd been duped," says Jo, noting Ditty told him Macy Grace had choked on vomit, which led to brain damage. Ditty likewise told police that she asked Keefer, a paramedic, to check on Macy Grace because she felt ill. The pair then found her choking on vomit and called 911, Ditty said. After speaking with a detective, "I find out that she wanted these photos just to lie to the public, to cover up what she did so she can look like the grieving mother," Jo says. "She was convincing." (One grieving woman posed with her kids by their dad's casket.)