Murder of Riley Ann Sawyers

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"Baby Grace" redirects here. For the fictional murder victim, see Outside (David Bowie album).
Riley Ann Sawyers
RileySawyers.jpg
Riley Ann Sawyers
Born (2005-03-11)March 11, 2005
Mentor, Ohio
Died July 24, 2007(2007-07-24) (aged 2)
Spring, Texas
Cause of death Homicide by beating
Body discovered October 29, 2007
Galveston Bay, Texas
Resting place Ashes buried at Mentor Municipal Cemetery, Mentor Lake County, Ohio, U.S.A.
Other names Baby Grace
Parent(s) Robert Thomas Sawyers (father)
Kimberly Dawn Trenor (mother)
Relatives Catherine Priester (stepmother)
Royce Clyde Zeigler, Jr. (stepfather)
Sheryl Sawyers (grandmother)
Ray Sr. Sawyers (grandfather)
Braden Michael Sawyers (brother)
A facial reconstruction (left) and a photograph of Riley Ann (right).

Riley Ann Sawyers (March 11, 2005 – July 24, 2007) known as Baby Grace prior to her identification, was a two-year-old American girl who was beaten to death by her mother and stepfather. Her body was later found in Galveston Bay, Texas.[1]

Police were unable to immediately identify the remains, and began a nationwide effort to learn the child's name.[2] Riley Ann's identity was confirmed when her paternal grandmother, Sheryl Sawyers, notified police after seeing a composite sketch. Her remains were then positively identified through DNA testing on November 30, 2007.[3][4][5][6]

Home environment[edit]

Riley Ann was the daughter of Robert Thomas Sawyers and Kimberly Dawn Trenor. Her mother became pregnant at the age of 15 when the pair developed a relationship after meeting on the online game World of Warcraft.[7][8][9] Her father dropped out of high school during his junior year. The family lived in Mentor, Ohio, with Robert's mother, Sheryl, who was Riley Ann's primary caregiver.[9] During this time, Riley Ann's parents grew apart and were no longer a couple. They all continued to live in the same home. Riley Ann's father began dating a woman named Catherine Priester, whom he later married. In October 2006, alleging physical abuse and having filed a domestic violence charge against Trenor, Sawyers left the home.[9] In May 2007, Trenor and Riley Ann moved to Spring, Texas.[10] Trenor married Royce Clyde Zeigler, Jr. on June 1, 2007.[11][12]

Zeigler believed Riley Ann should be disciplined to say "Sir" and "Ma'am" to adults, as well as the phrases "please" and "thank you," and that corporal punishment was the best means of disciplining a child.[6] Believing that Trenor was not properly administering the beatings, Zeigler himself beat the child.[12] Ziegler's former stepmother explained that his father had used similar characteristics to raise his children, which often involved abuse. Other ex-wives also gave recollections of Ziegler's father's abuse and likened the circumstances to that surrounding the death of Riley Ann.[13]

Death of Riley Ann[edit]

In a videotaped confession and signed affidavit on July 24, 2007, Trenor admitted she and Zeigler beat Riley Ann with two leather belts and held her head underwater in the bathtub.[9] Trenor also stated that Zeigler picked Riley Ann up by her hair and threw her across the room, causing her head to slam into the tile floor.[11] Riley Ann, having been injured by the beating, was unable to stand up when ordered to do so. “She didn’t have control of her legs,” Trenor stated. The child had also tried to hinder the beating by saying "I love you" to her mother as the abuse that night took place.[14][15] She maintained that the death was accidental and that it was "a case of discipline that went too far." When they realized Riley Ann was dead, Trenor and Zeigler went to Walmart to buy a Sterilite plastic storage container.[1] They wrapped Riley Ann's body in garbage bags and stuffed it into the plastic container.[10] They kept this container in a storage shed for about two months before dumping it into Galveston Bay from a bridge near the Galveston Causeway.[9][7]

Trenor "forged" legal documents as an attempt to conceal the murder. Such documents cited that Riley Ann had been removed from their custody due to alleged "sexual abuse." She claimed Ziegler had forced her to do so.[8]

Discovery and investigation[edit]

Sawyers' body was discovered in the Galveston Bay by a fisherman on October 29, 2007.[9][16] A coroner discovered three skull fractures on the body, and the investigation then proceeded as a homicide case.[1][8] The extent of the injuries was described as having similar force to falling from a rooftop.[16] After police were unable to identify the remains, forensic artist Lois Gibson was recruited to create a forensic sketch to illustrate an estimation of the victim's appearance during life, as the body was unrecognizable.[17][18][19] The unidentified body was then nicknamed "Baby Grace."[10] National efforts began to uncover the identity of the remains and the reconstruction was released to the public.[20] Eventually, Riley Ann's paternal grandmother, Sheryl, reported to authorities that the sketch resembled her granddaughter.[16][11][17] Sheryl had discovered the sketch online when she made the connection between the cases.[21] DNA testing later confirmed that the remains were that of the child, as authorities had already suspected, given the statements made by Riley Ann's grandmother.[8][13]

Trials[edit]

Shortly before Thanksgiving Day in 2007, Zeigler attempted suicide by overdosing on blood pressure medication and prescribed anti-depressant pills. He left a suicide note stating, "My wife is innocent of the sins I committed".[11][8] However, he later claimed during his trial that he was in another room of the house when Riley Ann died, and therefore could not have been guilty.[22]

Following their arrests, the pair were held at separate bonds of $350,000 each. They had initially been charged with injury to a child and tampering with evidence.[23] The trial for Trenor was delayed due to her becoming pregnant and it was postponed until after she gave birth in January 2009.[14]

Murder convictions[edit]

The Mountain View Unit, where Trenor is incarcerated.

Trenor and Zeigler eventually took responsibility for Riley Ann's death.[24][20] Trenor was convicted of capital murder on February 2, 2009. It took the jury 90 minutes to reach a verdict. She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 38 years.[6][25] She is incarcerated in the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. Her first parole eligibility date is November 24, 2047.[26]

Zeigler was charged with capital murder and evidence tampering. On November 6, 2009, he was convicted and received an automatic sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.[6] The sentence was automatic because the state did not seek the death penalty.[22] Such verdict was reached after four hours and thirty minutes of conversation by the jury.[6] He is incarcerated in the Wallace Pack Unit near Navasota, Texas.[27][28]

Aftermath[edit]

On January 14, 2008, the cremated remains of Riley Ann were turned over to her family in Ohio, after a Texas judge ruled that evidence collected during the autopsy would be sufficient for trial.[24] Sheryl Sawyers' facility of employment also raised money through a fundraiser to pay for the child's funeral.[9] A ceremony later took place and Sawyers' cremains were interred at the Mentor Municipal Cemetery. As many as twenty countries reportedly performed a similar memorial service for the victim.[6]

The Hitchcock City Commission in Texas named "Riley's Island" after the victim in March 2008.[14] The television show Investigation Discovery aired an episode about the case on June 15, 2011.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Associated Press (November 5, 2007). "'Baby Grace' Sketch Unleashes Wave of Tips". ABC News. 
  2. ^ Associated Press (November 5, 2007). "'Baby Grace' Sketch Unleashes Wave of Tips". ABC News. 
  3. ^ Sara McDonald (November 30, 2007). "DNA confirms Sawyers is 'Baby Grace'". Galveston Daily News. 
  4. ^ Harvey Rice (November 30, 2007). "DNA test confirms Riley Sawyers is Baby Grace". Houston Chronicle. 
  5. ^ "Resolved Cases". www.doenetwork.org. The Doe Network. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Royce Zeigler, stepfather of 'Baby Grace' -- Riley Ann Sawyer -- sentenced to life for murder". Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland Scene. 7 November 2009. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  7. ^ a b Christian, Carol (23 October 2014). "9 notorious crimes with ties to Galveston Island". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Report: Woman details death of 'Baby Grace'". USA Today. Gannett Co. Inc. The Associated Press. 27 November 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Langford, Terri. "How did Riley Ann Sawyers' mom end up here?". Houston Chronicle. Toledo, Ohio. 2 December 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c Celizic, Mike (29 November 2007). "Father, grandmother say 'Baby Grace' was loved". Today News. NBC. Retrieved June 14, 2016. 
  11. ^ a b c d Sean Callebs (November 26, 2007). "Police: Mother describes beating of 2-year-old, hiding her body". CNN. 
  12. ^ a b Harvey Rice (December 3, 2007). "Riley's death fits 'stepparent syndrome' mold". Houston Chronicle. 
  13. ^ a b Austin Peterson, Liz (11 December 2007). "Ex-wives of accused killer's father say Baby Grace case familiar". exas District & County Attorneys Association. Associated Press. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c Montaldo, Charles. "The 'Baby Grace' Case". About. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  15. ^ MÄKELÄ, KATRIINA (29 November 2007). "Isäpuoli pieksi kuoliaaksi "Baby Grace ei osannut kohteliaisuuksia"". Iltalehti (in Finnish). Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  16. ^ a b c d Shofar, Cassandara (15 June 2011). "Investigation Discovery to air episode on murder of Riley Ann Sawyers, 'Baby Grace'". The News Herald. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  17. ^ a b McLaughlin, Michael (23 July 2012). "Lois Gibson's Composite Sketches Have Helped Catch Texas Criminals For 30 Years". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  18. ^ Reece, Kevin (25 May 2016). "HPD forensic artist helping identify missing children". KHOU. Tegna. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  19. ^ "Lois Gibson - Forensic Art". Nic Herbert. 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  20. ^ a b Freidman, Emily (20 April 2010). "Texas: Authorities Search For Identity of Boy Found Dead in Park". ABC News. ABC. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  21. ^ Wigglesworth, Valerie; Kim, Theodore (17 April 2010). "Police hope illustration will help identify child found dead at Wylie park". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  22. ^ a b Juan A. Lozano (November 6, 2009). "Stepfather convicted in death of 'Baby Grace'". Associated Press. 
  23. ^ "Cops: Mom says couple tortured 'Baby Grace'". NBC News. NBC. 26 November 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  24. ^ a b M.R. Kropko (January 15, 2008). "Ashes of 'Baby Grace' Flown to Ohio". ABC News. 
  25. ^ "Mom found guilty of murder in 'Baby Grace' case - CNN.com". CNN. February 3, 2009. Retrieved May 19, 2010. 
  26. ^ "Trenor, Kimberly Dawn" (Archive). Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on December 28, 2015.
  27. ^ "Zeigler, Royce Clyde II" (Archive). Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on December 28, 2015.
  28. ^ Bentley, Paul; Durante, Thomas (24 August 2011). "Warren Jeffs moved to solitary cell to serve life sentence for rape of child brides - but allowed phone calls AND visitors". The Daily Mail. London, England: The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 

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