Gruesome discovery recalled in trial

October 29, 2009 4:50:22 PM PDT
The fisherman who found the body of a young girl stuffed into a cooler and dumped in Galveston Bay talked about the disturbing discovery. That girl was Riley Ann Sawyers. Her stepfather, Royce Clyde Zeigler, II, is on trial for her murder.[PHOTOS: Images from 'Baby Grace' trial]

It was two years ago when a fisherman discovered Riley's body in Galveston Bay. Today in court, jurors heard from that fisherman, Robert Spin, in painstaking detail.

He said, "As I was pulling out, there was a blue plastic box. It was upside down. I got out of my boat, walked over there and flipped it over."

Spin described the "thud" he heard when he rolled the box over, saying, "It wasn't the sound I was expecting to hear."

His testimony continued, "I went ahead and opened it just to see what was in there. I had to go through several bags to get to what was inside. I felt around until I felt something hard."

Spin said he called authorities once he discovered a child's pink and white shoe.

Forensic artist Lois Gibson drew the first sketches of Baby 'Grace, as she was called before she was identified as Riley.

"I had to make her bloom out like she was back alive and pull it all together and make it smooth and pretty and beautiful," Gibson explained.

Sketching from the courtroom now, two years later, she says the memories are still chilling.

"What I had to work with on Baby Grace was the worst thing I've ever seen," she said.

Also testifying today were a Galveston County Sheriff's deputy and a jail employee who monitored Zeigler under suicide watch. They talked about Zeigler's demeanor, medical condition and lies he told during the course of the initial investigation.

Sheryl Sawyer, Riley's paternal grandmother, testified late this afternoon. Zeigler had his head buried in his hands, rarely looking up at her the entire time he was on the stand.

Sawyers had identified Riley from the sketch of Baby Grace, helping investigators crack the case.

"More than the face, it was the clothing she had on. I recognized Riley had the same outfit," she recalled. "She got it for Christmas."

Riley and her mother, Kimberly Trenor, lived with Sawyers in Ohio. She took care of them even after Trenor and Riley's father went separate ways.

"I wasn't going to throw my granddaughter out with nowhere to live," Sawyers explained.

Months later Trenor met Houstonian Zeigler in an online chat room, leaving Ohio for good. Sawyers said the last time she saw Riley was in May 2007, around Memorial Day.

Prosecutors ended questioning Sawyers after showing jurors an email which they asked her to read out loud. It was an email from Sawyers to Riley, dated October 29, 2007, the day her granddaughter's body was found.

It read, "I have attached a picture of your new stepbrother. Hopefully, your mother will let you see it. I miss you, Riley, and love you very, very much. Hope to see you soon. Love and kisses, Grandma Sawyers."

Defense attorneys say the emotional testimony does not help the state's case against their client.

"They're heavy on emotion, but short on evidence that says Royce Zeigler killed this child," said defense attorney Dee McWilliams.

Testimony will continue Friday.

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