GALVESTON, Texas – A man accused of murdering his 2-year-old stepdaughter put her body in the trash and dumped in it the Galveston Bay — but he didn't kill her, his lawyer told jurors on Wednesday.
Royce Clyde Zeigler II, 26, is charged with capital murder in the death 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers, whose body was discovered in a plastic box on an island in the bay in 2007.
Before her remains were identified, Riley was called "Baby Grace" until news accounts helped relatives in Ohio recognize and identify her.
Zeigler's wife and Riley's mother, 21-year-old Kimberly Dawn Trenor, in February was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors allege that the couple beat the child and threw her to a tile floor, which fractured her skull.
During Wednesday's opening statements, defense attorney Neal Davis III said his client walked into the family's home in Spring, a Houston suburb, to find his wife with her unconscious child in July 2007.
"He put her in a trash bag and in another container and put it in the bay," Davis told jurors.
"There is not one iota of evidence that Royce Zeigler knowingly, intentionally or in any way caused the death of Riley Sawyers," Davis said. "He is not only not guilty, he is innocent."
But Galveston County prosecutor Kayla Allen told jurors that Zeigler lied repeatedly to investigators, giving them conflicting statements on the girl's death.
"Royce Clyde Zeigler and Kimberly lied to everyone they could lie to," Allen said. "They lied to their family, co-workers and police over and over."
Prosecutors showed the Galveston County jury, made up of nine men and three women, video of Zeigler admitting to dumping the child's body in Galveston Bay, the Galveston County Daily News reported.
After their arrests, Trenor and Zeigler offered contradictory statements. Trenor said in a videotaped statement that Zeigler stayed home from work July 25, 2007, to make sure Riley was properly disciplined. She said she and Zeigler beat Riley with a belt, held her head under bath water and smothered her with a pillow.
Zeigler, in his first interview, said Riley disappeared after an Ohio welfare worker snatched her from his home. He abandoned the story in his second interview. Asked repeatedly during the first interview if Riley was Baby Grace, Zeigler said, "I swear to God I do not know that." In his second interview, he acknowledged that Riley was Baby Grace.
An autopsy determined that the child died of two skull fractures. Prosecutors have said Trenor and Zeigler beat Riley with belts, dunked her head in cold bath water and threw her onto a tile floor, fracturing her skull and causing her death.
"You'll see at the end of the trial Royce Zeigler is full of nothing but lies, and that he and his wife murdered Riley Ann Sawyers," Allen said.
As with Trenor, Galveston County prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty for Zeigler.