HOUSTON – The stepfather of a 2-year-old girl lost control and beat her to death because she wouldn't say "please" and "yes sir," an attorney for the girl's mother said Wednesday.
A body found last month in Galveston Bay is believed to be that of the little girl, Riley Ann Sawyers, though DNA tests are pending. Her mother, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, and stepfather, Royce Clyde Zeigler II, were arrested Saturday.
According to court documents, Trenor, 19, told police she and her husband killed the girl in July and hid her body in a shed before dumping it in the bay.
Trenor's attorney, Tommy Stickler Jr., said Zeigler, 24, was overwhelmed by his sudden fatherhood and didn't know what behavior to expect from a toddler. Trenor moved with her daughter from Mentor, Ohio, to Texas in June to be with Zeigler, whom she met online.
Zeigler wanted his wife to spank Riley with a belt when she failed to say things like "please" and "yes sir" or "no sir," Stickler said Wednesday. Zeigler didn't believe Trenor was doing it, however, because the 2-year-old's behavior wasn't changing.
The fatal beating happened after Zeigler stayed home from work to make sure his wife was following his discipline plan, Stickler said.
In her statement to Galveston authorities, Trenor said the girl was beaten with leather belts, had her head held underwater in a bathtub and then was thrown across a room, her head slamming into a tile floor.
Although the affidavit said the couple abused Riley over a four- to six-hour period, Stickler said it wasn't a continuous event. Instead, Zeigler grew increasingly enraged as he spanked Riley and she kept forgetting to do things the way he wanted.
"There was never an intention to beat Riley to death," he said.
At one point, Trenor wanted to call an ambulance but Zeigler wouldn't let her, saying they would both be arrested if officials saw her injuries, Stickler said. Instead, Riley was given some over-the-counter pain medication.
When Riley later stopped breathing, Zeigler performed CPR on her tiny body, Stickler said.
Neal Davis III, Zeigler's attorney, said Trenor's story isn't believable.
"She is placing all the blame on Royce, but I think that once the facts come to light, once the timeline's established and the evidence is combed through ... I think her credibility is gonna become a big issue," Davis said.
Trenor and Ziegler were arrested after investigators spent weeks trying to identify the girl they dubbed "Baby Grace," whose body was found in a plastic box floating in Galveston Bay. Riley's paternal grandmother in Ohio had called police, thinking a sketch of the dead child might have been the granddaughter she hadn't seen in months.
Trenor and Zeigler remained jailed Wednesday on charges of injury to a child and tampering with evidence. Bail was set at $350,000 each.
Stickler also said Wednesday that Trenor is pregnant.