Stepdad on trial for Baby Grace's murder

October 29, 2009 4:07:26 AM PDT
Testimony started Wednesday in the second murder trial in connection with the little girl known as "Baby Grace."[PHOTOS: Images from 'Baby Grace' trial]

Royce Zeigler is facing life in prison if convicted in the brutal killing of his stepdaughter, Riley Ann Sawyers. The child's body was found floating inside a plastic container in Galveston Bay two years ago. Zeigler is charged in her murder and on Wednesday jurors heard what he told police after he was arrested.

Nine men and three women will decide the fate of Zeigler. Jurors heard from a lieutenant with the Galveston County Sheriff's Office who was one of the first people on the crime scene the night baby Riley's body was found.

It was the first time members of the jury came face-to-face with Royce Zeigler, 26, the man accused of capital murder in the death of his two-year-old stepdaughter.

It was two years ago this week when Riley's body was found by a fisherman. She was wrapped in three trash bags, stuffed into a plastic container and dumped in Galveston Bay. Her remains were so decomposed that police dubbed her "Baby Grace" until she was identified. Autopsies show the baby died from three skull fractures.

Prosecutors believe Zeigler and his wife Kimberly Dawn Trenor carried out Riley's death together. In February, Trenor was convicted of capital murder for her daughter's death and she is serving a life sentence.

Defense attorneys though say Trenor is the true killer. They say while Zeigler helped tie up baby Riley and dump her in the bay, he did not cause her death and should only be charged with tampering with evidence.

Jurors watched more than three hours of voluntary videotaped statements made to investigators by Zeigler the day after his arrest.

In the videos, Zeigler tells investigators, "I wasn't feeling well that day. I was in bed. Next thing I know I hear, 'Royce, Royce.' I go out there and perform CPR on her, but it was too late.

"I contemplated calling police, but I was afraid of what would happen. We went to Wal-mart and I respected Kim's wishes by giving her (Riley) a proper burial," Zeigler went on to say.

Together, Zeigler told police, the couple bought a blue plastic container, gloves and a chain.

"We went back to the house and I told her to clean up Riley. I couldn't bear to see it. I was gonna puke. Kim picked out the clothes and I put the bags on her," said Zeigler.

He added that they left Riley in a garage storage for weeks before heaving the container with her body into the bay.

But the defense says there are holes in the police investigation that don't link their client to his stepdaughter's death.

"That's what we're anxious for the jury to hear and there's just not any evidence connecting Royce Zeigler to the murder of his baby," said defense attorney Dena Fisher.

As for prosecutors, they told us they do not want to do interviews at all during this trial.

Earlier Wednesday

Opening statements began around 9:15am, with each side taking about 20 minutes to make their opening remarks. During that time, prosecutors told members of the jury that Zeigler and Trenor met online in a chat room in during March 2007. Prosecutors gave an outline of the couple's long-distance relationship, which lasted about two months before Zeigler flew to Ohio, where the mother and her baby lived. All three then returned to Texas together in May 2007.

Six weeks later, on July 25, 2007, Riley Ann Sawyers was dead, her body found wrapped in three trash bags, sealed in a plastic box and dumped in Galveston Bay.

The defense came forward saying Zeigler is guilty of making a stupid mistake by tampering with evidence. They say he helped Riley's mother wrap the girl's body and dispose of it. But they claim there is no evidence proving Zeigler caused the baby's death, thus making him innocent of murder.

The jury is expected to hear testimony from a variety of people for the next two weeks. The child's grandmother, the defendant's brother and law enforcement officers are among those expected to testify. There is no word if Trenor will take the stand.

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