Murder defendent painted as frustrated

October 30, 2009 5:00:11 PM PDT
The man on trial for the murder of his stepdaughter, the girl once known as Baby Grace, is accused of beating her to death while trying to discipline the young girl. On Friday jurors heard about Royce Zeigler's relationship with Riley Ann Sawyers. [PHOTOS: Images from 'Baby Grace' trial]

It was a full day of testimony. There was some talk of the investigation itself, but more about Zeigler as a person and as a stepfather.

Testimony began with Special Agent Donny Gay. He drove Zeigler from his home in Spring to Galveston county jail for questioning in November 2007. The agent told jurors about the conversation he had with Zeigler during that hour and a half trip to Galveston.

"When I asked him if he thought Baby Grace was Riley, he said, 'God, I hope it wasn't' in the past tense," Agent Gay testified.

The defense team says investigators approached Zeigler as Riley's murderer from the start.

"They wanted him to say 'I killed Riley,'" asserted defense attorney Neal Davis, III. "Therefore, if he didn't say it he must be lying."

On Friday afternoon jurors heard from former colleagues of Zeigler at Emerson engineering firm, who painted him as a frustrated stepfather. One woman, who shared a cubicle with him, testified she heard heated telephone conversations between Zeigler and Kimberly Trenor. Trenor was Riley's mother and Zeigler's wife.

She testified, "He would tell her she needed to discipline Riley, to spank her, to get her to behave."

Another colleague recalled an instance when Riley broke Zeigler's phone.

"He said she was a brat. That they were going to have to start spanking her with a belt, is what he said," the colleague testified.

Zeigler's manager Donald Runge testified that Royce called in sick the morning of July 25, 2007 -- the same day baby Riley died. The two had email contact for a few hours in the morning, again around 2:00 that afternoon, and then exchanged phone calls between 5:00 and 7:00 that evening. Runge said he didn't hear from Zeigler again until 3:45 the next morning.

In February Trenor was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty against Zeigler.

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