GALVESTON (AP) — A mother accused of brutally beating her 2-year-old daughter to death and then dumping her in Galveston Bay faces life without parole if convicted of capital murder in the “Baby Grace” case.
Jury selection was to begin Monday in the trial of 20-year-old Kimberly Dawn Trenor, the mother of a toddler known as “Baby Grace” after her remains were found more than a year ago.
Prosecutors say Trenor and her husband, Royce Clyde Zeigler II, tortured Riley Ann Sawyers to death in July 2007 during a discipline session that went horribly wrong. They are accused of then putting the body in a plastic container and hiding it for a month or two in a storage shed at their home in the northern Houston suburb of Spring before dumping the remains in the bay 70 miles away. A fisherman found the container on a tiny island about a mile from shore in October 2007.
Trenor’s attorney, Tommy Stickler Jr., said his client is not responsible for Riley’s death and puts the blame on Zeigler.
According to the arrest affidavit, Trenor said she and Zeigler used two leather belts to beat Riley and held her head under water. But she claims it was Zeigler, the child’s stepfather, who grabbed Riley by her hair and flung her across a room onto a tile floor.
An autopsy concluded Riley died when her skull was fractured in three places.
Zeigler’s attorney, Neal Davis III, points the finger at Trenor. Zeigler will be tried later.
Trenor and Zeigler are being held in the Galveston County Jail under bonds of $850,000 each.
Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk declined comment about the case before the trial starts.
The toddler was given the name “Baby Grace” by authorities during the weeks they worked to identify her badly decomposed remains.
The break in the case came when an Ohio woman named Sheryl Sawyers saw an artist’s sketch of the girl, believed it was her granddaughter Riley and called authorities.
Trenor had moved with Riley from Mentor, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, to Texas in June 2007 to be with Zeigler, whom she met playing an online game, World of Warcraft.
Riley’s murder and its investigation got much media coverage and both prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to thoroughly question the 150 member jury pool. Jury selection was expected to take a day with opening statements on Tuesday.
“No matter how big and tough you are, the death of a child grabs you a little bit more,” said Tim Miller, director of Texas EquuSearch, a volunteer search organization that helped in the investigation.
Trenor could receive an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder. The jury could also convict her of a lesser charge.
Trenor pleaded guilty last week to a charge of evidence tampering and will be sentenced for that after her murder trial.
Prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty against either her or Zeigler, 25, because they didn’t think they could prove that the pair would be a future danger, a requirement for such a punishment.
In June 2008, Trenor gave birth to a boy, Shawn, while awaiting trial. The baby is living in the Dallas area with distant relatives of Trenor, who relinquished her parental rights. Zeigler has not relinquished his rights, child welfare officials said.