A woman believed to be the mother of a 2-year-old whose body was found in Galveston Bay told police she and the girl’s stepfather beat and tortured the child to death, court documents show.
The details, in a statement Kimberly Dawn Trenor gave to police, paint a chilling picture of the last days of the girl investigators called “Baby Grace” as they worked for weeks to learn her identity.
Investigators are awaiting DNA test results but said Monday they are “fairly confident” that the body a fisherman found in a plastic box Oct. 29 is that of Riley Ann Sawyers. Trenor, 19, and her husband, Royce Clyde Zeigler II, were in custody on charges of hurting the girl.
“It was a few weeks ago I held up this little shoe and asked, ’Who is Baby Grace? Who does this belong to?”’ sheriff’s Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo said at a news conference. “We’re now fairly confident we know the answer to that.”
An autopsy revealed three skull fractures, but the cause of death has not been determined.
Tuttoilmondo said he could not discuss details of the little girl’s death, but Trenor said in her police statement, first reported by Houston television station KTRK, that she and Zeigler, 24, killed her July 24.
The girl was beaten with leather belts, had her head held underwater in a bathtub and then was thrown across a room, her head slamming into a tile floor, Trenor said in the document. She said they kept the body in a storage shed for one to two months before they put it in a plastic bin and dumped it into Galveston Bay.
Trenor’s attorney, Tom Stickler, said she has cooperated with authorities. He declined to comment about her statement to investigators.
'No doubt' on ID
“But from what she said, there is no doubt that the girl found is Riley Sawyers,” Stickler said.
Trenor and Zeigler were arrested early Saturday and charged with injury to a child and tampering with evidence, Tuttoilmondo said. Bail was set at $350,000 each. The couple’s next court appearance was expected to be scheduled on Tuesday.
Wendell Odom, Zeigler’s attorney, declined to comment on the case except to say Zeigler grew up in Spring, about 75 miles north of Galveston, and works as an instrument technician in the oil industry.
Trenor and Zeigler met a couple of years ago playing an online game, World of Warcraft, and she moved with her daughter from suburban Cleveland to Spring in June, Stickler said.
Riley’s paternal grandmother, Sheryl Sawyers, hadn’t seen her granddaughter in months when she saw a police sketch of “Baby Grace.” Thinking it might be Riley, she called authorities in Texas.
In Mentor, Ohio, on Monday, Sawyers wiped away tears at a news conference and held up the Elmo doll she had already bought Riley for Christmas.
“It’s hard to think that I’ll never see her again,” she said.
The Sawyers family’s attorney, Laura DePledge, said they take comfort in knowing that the girl is “resting peacefully and is no longer subject to abuse.”
DePledge said Trenor and Sawyers’ son, Robert Sawyers, also of Mentor, had been high school sweethearts. Sheryl Sawyers said she has not seen Riley since the girl and Trenor moved to Texas.
Robert Sawyers, who works in an auto-parts store, was never married to Trenor but lived with her and their daughter in his parents’ home for about two years. He and Trenor split up after March 31, when he was charged with domestic violence against her.
DePledge said there was insufficient evidence to support the charge, which was reduced to disorderly conduct. Robert Sawyers is now married and has a 3-month-old son.
Riley “had a very big imagination for such a little girl,” he said of his daughter. “She could play with anything and have fun with it.”
Tuttoilmondo said Trenor had told relatives that someone claiming to be a social worker from Ohio took the girl in July.
Tuttoilmondo said investigators became emotionally involved in determining the little girl’s identity.
“Any way you look at it, we carry a piece of her with us and will always carry a little piece of her with us,” he said. “She’s still our little girl.”