Guilty verdict in 'Baby Grace' trial

February 2, 2009 9:22:45 PM PST
A mother was convicted Monday of murdering her own two-year-old daughter. And now, we're hearing from the jury who made the decision to send her to jail for the rest of her life. [EVIDENCE: Handwritten letter from Kimberly Trenor's notebook]
[PHOTOS: Images from 'Baby Grace' trial]

Kimberly Trenor is now a convicted killer. She will never get out of prison. A Galveston County jury found the 20-year-old mother guilty of capital murder after just a couple hours of deliberation.

Prosecutors say Trenor and her husband, Royce Zeigler, tortured Riley Ann Sawyers to death in July 2007 while disciplining her. Riley was known as "Baby Grace" until her remains were identified. The toddler's paternal grandmother in Ohio, Sheryl Sawyers, saw an artist's sketch of the girl and told authorities in Texas she thought it was her granddaughter.

Trenor never denied beating Riley. Her defense is that she never actually killed her.

"I'm not necessarily sure that she didn't know what was going to happen, and was willing to accept that a long time ago," said defense attorney Tom Stickler after the verdict was read.

The verdict was the culmination of an emotionally charged trial.

"I saw that little shoe that I held up. That's all I saw," said Major Roy Tuttoilmondo with the Galveston County Sheriff's Office. "That's what it's all about, that little child."

Riley's paternal grandmother arrived at the courthouse for the verdict and left afterwards distraught.

"I think for Sheryl, it's difficult," said family spokesperson Laura DePledge. "She looked at Kimberly like a daughter and she found it absolutely incomprehensible that Kimberly would be responsible for something like this."

As for the prosecution, this was only the halfway point as the trial of Trenor's husband, Royce Zeigler, still looms.

"This is just one trial. We've got another one to go, but today, our thoughts and prayers remain with Ms. Sawyers and every individual, every person who came forward to help identify Riley," said Galveston County DA Kurt Sistrunk.

Zeigler's trial date has not yet been set. He, too, is charged with capital murder.

During closing arguments, we noticed several members of the seven-woman, five-man jury get emotional, wiping away tears. We heard from the jury foreman after the verdict.

"It's an emotional trial," said Randy Rothschild. "And because of the victim, you know, the victim was a two-year-old child. And that was hard to set aside and simply stick to the facts, but I think we did that."

At one point the jury foreman put his head between his hands, simply staring down at the floor.

When the defense got hold of things, the proceedings moved along pretty quickly. The defense's total case was argued in about 45 minutes and 50 minutes was spent on closing arguments. The jury got the case at 4:05pm and were done about an hour and a half later. That means the jury spent more time deliberating than the defense spent arguing its case. Trenor never took the stand.

"They had no defense," said KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy. "There's no defense for what she did. The only defense that could have existed would be a psychiatric defense, but they had no psychiatric testimony."

Our legal analyst pointed out the case of Andrea Yates, the Clear Lake woman who drowned her five children back in the summer of 2001. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Androphy is surprised the mental health card wasn't played in this trial, as well.

"I'm sure her lawyers went out to search for doctors that can come to her aid," said Androphy. "And in this day and age, where doctors are willing to do anything for anybody for a fee, I'm shocked that there wasn't a doctor that said, 'I will help you with a psychiatric defense'."

Androphy also says Trenor didn't take the stand because she probably couldn't do anything to help herself. But he says, in one way, she did get a good deal.

"By going to jail for the rest of her life, she got a good deal because most people under those circumstances would have been put to death," Androphy said.

Prosecutors didn't seek the death penalty in this case. Jurors also could have also convicted her of two lesser charges, but opted not to.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor told jurors, "It shows you how manipulative she is. She was manipulative when she walked into the police department. She came there for one reason -- to blame someone else for Riley's murder."

Prosecutors went on to say, "She tells you she whipped Riley, that she pushed her head under water. But she says she didn't deliver a killing blow. Should we believe that?"

Trenor's defense told jurors, "I'm not saying she's not guilty of nothing. But not guilty of capital murder? This was unacceptable abuse, but not capital murder."

Perhaps one of the most disturbing pieces of evidence is contained in one of Trenor's journals. The notebook was given to the jurors to review in deliberations. A letter in the journal reads in part: "I just kept hitting her with the belt again and again. I don't know how long, but I remember her trying to get away and me knocking her back down."

"I told her to stand up and face me, but she couldn't stand up," reads the letter. "She was black and blue from head to toe, barely able to squeeze my fingers. All I could do was hold her and feel her go cold."

The letter wasn't specifically read to jurors, but the journal was introduced as evidence.

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