In 2007 I wrote a number of posts on the murder of Rily Ann Sawyer, a little girl known as ‘Baby Grace’, to those who found her lifeless body on an island in West Galveston Bay:
The murder trial of her stepfather began today.
Updates on the trial proceedings will be posted as they occur.
Baby Grace’smother defends son
Suspect tears up as his mom testifies at Baby Grace trial
By HARVEY RICE
Nov. 5, 2009, 6:36PM
GALVESTON — Royce Clyde Zeigler II blinked back tears at one point Thursday as his mother took the witness stand to try to convince jurors that her son was too kind to have killed his stepdaughter, who came to be known as Baby Grace.
Occasionally breaking into sobs as she testified on the seventh day of her son’s capital murder trial, Nellie Zeigler portrayed her 26-year-old son as loving and trusting and his wife, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, 21, as cold and manipulative.
Testimony in the trial ended Thursday, and District Judge David Garner asked the jury to return on Friday for closing arguments.
The defense is hoping Nellie Zeigler’s testimony and eight other character witnesses will help convince jurors that Trenor is solely responsible for the July 25, 2007, death of her daughter, 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers.
Trenor is serving a life sentence following her capital murder conviction in February.
Nellie Zeigler said her son was in love with Trenor, whom he married June 1, 2007, after a whirlwind courtship. He brought Trenor and Riley to Texas from Ohio.
“He loved her with all his heart,” Nellie Zeigler said under questioning by defense attorney Neal Davis III.
Her son spent so much time with Riley and got along with her so well that she suspected that Trenor was jealous, Nellie Zeigler said.
Nellie Zeigler recalled sternly lecturing her son and daughter-in-law after finding a black-and-blue mark on Riley’s hip. Her son apologized, she said, but Trenor looked defiant and walked away.
Trenor lied about Riley’s whereabouts to Nellie Zeigler and other family members, she said, at a time when Riley’s corpse was hidden in a storage room at the Spring house where Royce Zeigler and Trenor lived,
Under cross-examination by Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, she admitted that her son had lied about Riley’s whereabouts as well.
A fisherman discovered Riley’s body Oct. 29, 2007, after the blue plastic container it was packed in washed onto an island in West Galveston Bay.
Investigators named the then-unidentified blond, blue-eyed girl Baby Grace.
Trenor, in a videotaped interview with investigators, said that Royce Zeigler called in sick the day Riley died so that he could stay home and make sure she was properly disciplined. The prosecution did not play Trenor’s video for the jury and she did not testify.
Covered up death
Trenor said Riley was beaten with belts, her head held under bath water and a pillow placed over her face. She said her husband hurled Riley onto a tile floor.
The medical examiner testified that the impact from any one of three fractures in Riley’s skull could have killed her.
Zeigler, in two videotaped statements to investigators, admitted to helping pack Riley’s body in three black plastic bags in a blue storage box. Investigators believe the box was stored in a storage room in their Spring home for up to two months.
He initially told investigators that an Ohio welfare worker had taken Riley, but eventually admitted to helping cover up her death.
Co-workers recall Baby Grace’s stepdad as a misfit
Stepdad’s co-workers testify at Baby Grace trial
They say he was a misfit who was in good spirits weeks after the 2-year-old girl’s death
By HARVEY RICE
Oct. 31, 2009, 12:18AM
Jennifer Reynolds Galveston Daily News
Prosecutors display Riley Ann Sawyers’ photo above the box her body was found inside.
GALVESTON — Co-workers of Royce Clyde Zeigler II recalled him variously as unprofessional, dishonest and such a social misfit that one gave him the nickname “Psycho,” according to testimony on Friday during his capital murder trial in the slaying of his stepdaughter, known as Baby Grace.
Four co-workers remembered Zeigler, 26, and his wife, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, 21, laughing, playing baseball and acting normal at an Aug. 4, 2007, party for employees of Emerson Process Management. The party occurred less than two weeks after the July 25, 2007, death of 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers, at a time when investigators believe her body was packed in a blue plastic box in a storage room at the couple’s residence.
Riley’s unidentified body was discovered inside the plastic box Oct. 29, 2007, after it washed onto an island in West Galveston Bay. Investigators named her Baby Grace until she was identified.
Photos taken by Emerson employee Angelica Zenon at the party show Trenor playfully pulling Zeigler’s white baseball cap over his face while he reclines on a lounge chair and sips a margarita.
Zenon said that at work Zeigler was unprofessional, taking cell phone calls during meetings. “I didn’t like him. I thought he was weird and creepy,” she said.
She said Zeigler approached her after the party and warned her to erase any photos she had taken of him.
Testifying on the third day of the trial before District Judge David Garner, Emerson employee Scott Estes, an engineering manager, said he nicknamed Zeigler “Psycho.”
“I didn’t feel comfortable around Royce,” said Estes, who described him as dishonest because he missed work or was often late.
Estes recalled that in early July, Zeigler was angry about Riley breaking his cell phone, complaining that Trenor refused to discipline her, and he threatened to start whipping her with a belt.
Donald Runge, who supervised the project Zeigler was working on, said Zeigler was constantly late to work, had problems working with clients and that he gave him a written reprimand.
Casting doubt on mother’s role
FBI Special Agent Don Gay testified that Zeigler told him in an informal conversation that he never saw Trenor abuse Riley, although Zeigler later blamed his wife for Riley’s death.
Gay’s testimony follows testimony by Riley’s grandmother, Sheryl Sawyers of Mentor, Ohio, who said Trenor never used corporal punishment to discipline Riley while they lived with her in Ohio. The mother and daughter lived in Ohio until May 2007, when Trenor moved to Texas to marry Zeigler after a quick courtship.
Riley died a month after their June 1, 2007, marriage.
Gay said Zeigler’s comments were made as investigators drove Zeigler from Spring to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, where he made the first of two videotaped statements.
Zeigler, in a Nov. 24 videotaped interview with investigators, said he was in another room of the couple’s home in Spring while Trenor was disciplining Riley the day she died. He said Riley was already unconscious when he entered the room.
Trenor is serving a life sentence after being convicted in February of capital murder. She made a videotaped statement to investigators that implicated Zeigler, saying he stayed home the day Riley died to make sure she was disciplined. Trenor said Riley was beaten with belts, her head held under bath water and a pillow placed over her face. She said Zeigler slammed Riley onto a tile floor. The medical examiner testified during Trenor’s trial that any one of three fractures found on Riley’s skull could have been fatal.
As in the Trenor trial, prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty for Zeigler.
Zeigler admitted helping pack Riley’s body in black plastic garbage bags in a blue plastic container. Investigators suspect the box was left in a garage storage room for as long as two months.
Zeigler told investigators that he tried to bury the box soon after Riley’s death but was too emotionally distraught. Trenor said in her videotaped statement that digging the hole proved to be too difficult for him.
He also admitted that he tossed the box off the Galveston Island railroad bridge at Trenor’s instructions.
Recalling another tragic day
Two years from the day Riley’s body was found, Robert Spinn testified on Wednesday how he discovered the blue box Oct. 29, 2007, after it washed ashore on an island in West Galveston Bay. A cross was erected on the island in remembrance of Riley and the city of Hitchcock named the island Riley’s Island.
The discovery of the body launched an nationwide search for the unidentified blond, blue-eyed girl called Baby Grace.
Also testifying was Wal-Mart employee Gloria Escobedo, who showed the nine men and three women on the jury the receipts for the items Zeigler and Trenor purchased, allegedly to dispose of Riley’s body. Escobedo said she provided sheriff’s investigators with receipts showing purchases of black plastic garbage bags, a shovel, plastic gloves, a blue plastic storage box, duct tape and quick-mix cement. The cement was found in the bottom of the box after it was discovered on the island.
Dr. Harold Gill King, director of the forensics lab at the University of North Texas, testified that Riley had three skull fractures that were caused by multiple impacts. He also said that the force of impact had snapped off part of a bone in her vertebrae just below the skull.
Jury shown how tot’s death allegedly hidden
© 2009 The Associated Press
Oct. 30, 2009, 1:33PM
GALVESTON, Texas — A Galveston County jury heard from a department store worker who displayed replicas of items prosecutors say were used to conceal the murder of a 2-year-old girl.
Gloria Escobedo’s testimony came Friday as prosecution testimony continues in the capital murder trial of Royce Clyde Zeigler II. He’s charged in the 2007 death of stepdaughter Riley Ann Sawyers, known as “Baby Grace” before her remains were identified.
The Wal-Mart worker produced cash register receipts showing $87 in cash transactions for such purchases as a storage box, cleaning supplies, a shovel, cement and an anchor chain.
Zeigler’s attorney argues that his client threw the child’s decomposing corpse into Galveston Bay, but no evidence exists to show that his client is guilty of killing his stepdaughter. The girl’s remains were found washed up on an island in Galveston Bay.
Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, http://www.galvnews.com
By HARVEY RICE Copyright 2009 HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Oct. 29, 2009, 5:07PM
The testimony by Sheryl Sawyers of Mentor, Ohio chips away at Zeigler’s assertion in taped interviews with investigators that Riley Ann Sawyers, known as Baby Grace until her body was identified, died at the hands of her mother, his wife, while he was in another room.
Sawyers testified that Riley and her mother, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, 21, lived with her for the first two years of Riley’s life. Riley died about a month after her mother took her to Texas, where Trenor married Zeigler after a whirlwind courtship.
Trenor never used corporal punishment to discipline her daughter, Sawyers told the nine men and three women jurors and Disrict Judge David Garner. Sawyers said she never saw Trenor get upset when Riley misbehaved or threw a tantrum. “I never saw Kimberly really get upset about anything,” Sawyers said.
Trenor, serving a life sentence after her capital murder conviction in February, said in a videotaped statement that Zeigler, 26, stayed home from work the day Riley died, July 25, 2007, to make sure she was properly disciplined. Trenor said Riley was beaten with a belt, her head held under bath water and a pillow placed over her face. Zeigler hurled Riley against a tile floor, Trenor said.
The medical examiner testified during Trenor’s trial that any one of three fractures in Riley’s skull could have caused her death. As in Trenor’s trial, Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk is not seeking the death penalty.
Zeigler said in two videotaped statements he gave to investigators that he helped put Riley’s body in plastic bags placed in a blue plastic box. He said Trenor placed the box in a storage room, where investigators believe it remained for as long as two months.
Zeigler said he tossed the box off the Galveston Island railroad bridge.
The fisherman who found the box on an island in West Galveston Bay testified today exactly two years later, about his surprise after opening the box and cutting through plastic bags to find a little girl’s shoe. Robert Spinn said his first reaction was “a little bit of disbelief.”
“I called my wife first for just a reality check,” Spinn said, before dialing 911.
A Galveston County sheriff’s deputy testified that Zeigler used selective memory when being questioned about Riley’s death, and carried on with a normal life after the corpse was hidden in his garage storage room.
Asked if Zeigler’s inability to remember details about the death of Riley Ann Sawyers — who became known as Baby Grace after her initially unidentified body was found — was poor memory or lies, Lt. Tommy Hansen said, “Lies, to minimize his involvement in the crime.”
Hansen, under questioning by Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, also pointed out contradictions in Zeigler’s videotaped interviews.
Zeigler told investigators he had threatened to leave Trenor the night before Riley died. He later said he was ready to kill himself and deflect the blame from Trenor. Hansen asked why he would kill himself for someone he was ready leave.
He also said that Zeigler went to work the day after Riley’s death and appeared to resume a normal life. In the tapes, Zeigler said it was very difficult to work knowing that his stepdaughter’s death was being covered up.
Defense attorney Dee McWilliams challenged Hansen’s assertion that Zeigler assumed a normal life after Riley’s death. McWilliams said Zeigler was taking psychotropic medication and tried to kill himself, showing that he was greatly affected by his predicament.
Hansen also testified that Zeigler had complained during the interview that Riley had a severe disciplinary problem. He said he was in another room when Riley was beaten and had no part in her death. Sawyers testified that Riley had no abnormal disciplinary problems.
Hansen said investigators found no evidence that Trenor used corporal punishment to discipline Riley while she and her daughter lived in Ohio.
© 2009 The Associated Press
Oct. 29, 2009, 6:33PM
Baby Grace’s stepfather denies having part in slaying
By HARVEY RICE Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 28, 2009, 9:07PM
GALVESTON — Royce Clyde Zeigler II says he was in his bedroom listening to his 2-year-old stepdaughter’s screams and took no part in her slaying, according to two videotaped statements shown to the jury Wednesday during his capital murder trial in the death of the girl who became known as Baby Grace.
“I did not harm Riley to kill her,” Zeigler said during a Nov. 3, 2007, interview he requested with investigators after his arrest in the death of Riley Ann Sawyers, whose then-unidentified body had been discovered a month earlier in a blue plastic box that had washed ashore on an island in West Galveston Bay.
The nine men and three women jurors, on the first day of a trial before District Judge David Garner, also saw a second videotaped interview that Zeigler requested the following day.
Zeigler, 26, and his wife, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, 21, both of Spring, made separate, contradictory statements after their arrest. Trenor, convicted of capital murder in February and sentenced to life in prison, gave a videotaped statement in which she said Zeigler stayed home from work July 25, 2007, to make sure Riley was properly disciplined. She said she and Zeigler beat Riley with a belt, held her head under bath water and smothered her with a pillow.
She said it was Zeigler who hurled Riley onto a tile floor. The medical examiner testified during Trenor’s trial that any one of three cracks in Riley’s skull could have been fatal.
Trenor said that they stuffed Riley’s body in a plastic bags and placed it in a blue plastic box before placing it in a storage room for as long as two months. They eventually tossed the box off the Galveston Island railroad bridge.
Zeigler, in his first interview, said that Riley disappeared after an Ohio welfare worker snatched her from his home. He abandoned the story in his second interview. Asked repeatedly during the first interview if Riley was Baby Grace, Zeigler said, “I swear to God I do not know that.” In his second interview he acknowledges that Riley is Baby Grace.
In the second interview, Zeigler said that on the day Riley died he heard her screaming “No,” and Trenor yelling at her. He said Riley was already unconscious when he found her and Trenor in the living room. He said he gave Riley CPR and suggested that she be taken to the emergency room, but Trenor objected. Pressed for details, he said he didn’t recall because he was so horrified that he blotted them out.
In her opening statement, Galveston County Assistant District Attorney Kayla Allen said Zeigler and Trenor concocted an elaborate web of lies that began unraveling when a fisherman discovered Riley’s body Oct. 29, 2007.
Zeigler attorney Neal Davis III countered that his client was guilty of nothing more than helping his wife conceal evidence. “There is not one iota of evidence that Royce Zeigler knowingly, intentionally or in any way caused the death of Riley Sawyers,” Davis said.