GALVESTON, Texas – In her final hours, 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers screamed as she was whipped with leather belts that turned her skin black and blue and was dragged by her hair into a bathroom where her head was repeatedly dunked into a tub of cold water — all part of a discipline session to teach her manners, her mother said.
"It seemed like it went on and on," Riley's mother, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, said in a videotaped statement she gave to police that was played Tuesday during the first day of her capital murder trial in Riley's death.
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Prosecutors were set to question one of the investigators who took Trenor's statement — where she admitted taking part in Riley's beating but blamed the toddler's death on her husband, Royce Clyde Zeigler II — when her trial resumes on Wednesday.
Jurors wept Tuesday as they heard Trenor detail Riley's brutal death, which an autopsy concluded was caused by skull fractures.
Trenor, 20, said those fractures occurred after Zeigler, who became enraged when the toddler didn't learn to behave better, violently threw her several times across their family room, causing her to smack her head on the tile floor.
"I never meant for what happened to happen," Trenor said near the end of her more than four-hour statement.
However, prosecutor Kayla Allen told jurors that Trenor and Zeigler are both responsible for her death when they tried to discipline Riley on July 25, 2007. Trenor admitted to police that she pushed Riley's head underwater and hit her with the belt that day.
"You've got to know ... the result would be death from what they did to her," Allen said.
Allen said after Riley was killed, the couple bought a plastic container, stuffed her beaten body inside and stored it in a shed before dumping it in Galveston Bay. Riley was dubbed "Baby Grace" by investigators in October 2007 after they found her remains and worked to identify her.
At the defense table, Trenor's eyes teared up as she watched the videotape on a large screen. Several members of the jury of seven women and five men wiped away tears.
Trenor told police she and Riley moved from Mentor, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, to Spring, a suburb north of Houston, in June 2007 to be with Zeigler after she met him playing the online video game World of Warcraft.
Trenor said at first her new life in Texas was great. But then Zeigler became upset Riley wouldn't listen to adults or say "please" or "thank you." The discipline session was his idea, she said.
Trenor's attorney, Tommy Stickler Jr., said in his opening statement that his client never intended to kill her daughter and that things just "spun out of control."
But Allen said that Trenor did nothing to save her daughter, not even when Riley told her mother "I love you" as she was being beaten.
Trenor said she and Zeigler fabricated a story that Riley had been taken away by officials with Child Protective Services in Ohio to explain her disappearance to relatives.
Riley's body, Trenor said, was kept in a container in a storage shed at their home until September 2007, when she and Zeigler drove to Galveston early one morning. They threw the container, which had partially been filled with cement, into the bay a day after they had unsuccessfully tried to bury it in a wooded area north of their home.
But the container did not sink, she said. A fisherman found it on a tiny island about a mile from shore the next month.
Trenor said Zeigler tried to commit suicide after Riley's death and wrote a note in which he said she was innocent "of the sins I committed."
Zeigler's attorney, Neal Davis III, has said Trenor was responsible for Riley's death. Zeigler will be tried later.
The toddler's remains were unidentified for weeks until an Ohio woman named Sheryl Sawyers saw an artist's sketch of the girl, believed it was her granddaughter Riley and called authorities.
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.
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.
Trenor and Zeigler are being held in the Galveston County Jail under bonds of $850,000 each.