In the end, Baby Elaina was bruised, battered, and smothered by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend simply because she wouldn’t stop crying.
On Tuesday, Angela Steinfurth, 25, and Steven King II, 24, each were sentenced to life in prison for their parts in the murder of 18-month-old Elaina Steinfurth — the East Toledo toddler who caught the attention and hearts of the community after she went missing June 2. Steinfurth will be eligible for parole after spending 18 years in prison; King after serving 25.
PHOTO GALLERY: Sentencing in death of Baby Elaina
PHOTO GALLERY: Vigil for Baby Elaina
“There is no place on Earth for this type of behavior,” Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook said after listening to Ian English, an assistant county prosecutor, recount what began on the night of June 1 when Steinfurth became frustrated with her daughter’s crying and threw her across the room.
The little girl took her last breath as King held his hand over her mouth and nose until she was dead.
“What we’ve heard about here today are the unspeakable truths of violence in the homes and a story of incredible proportions that could’ve been stopped early even after that first act of violence that you took out on your daughter,” Judge Cook told Steinfurth. “All you had to do was make a phone call, get her the proper care.”
Judge Ruth Ann Franks, who accepted King’s pleas and imposed the agreed-upon sentence, put it this way: “When we look at this, there’s no words that need to be said at this point and time except this: Mr. King, you’re a coward.”
She said Elaina’s death — the death of any child — affects the whole community.
“You had the opportunity to seek medical treatment, intervention that possibly could have saved that little baby girl’s life, and you put your own well-being first, your own fears of what would happen to you,” Judge Franks said. “And with cold calculation you smothered that little girl, you took the last breath from her.”
The judge said what King did next was even more appalling.
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“You take the body of that little baby girl and you dispose of it by putting it in a box and storing it in the garage like it’s a piece of trash, and it speaks volumes as to how you value life itself, except your own,” she said.
The pair’s pleas and sentences came just one day after a Lucas County grand jury handed up indictments charging King with aggravated murder, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse, and Steinfurth with murder.
King pleaded guilty to the three charges and to an earlier charge of obstructing justice for lying to police as part of an agreement with prosecutors that defense attorney Pete Rost said had been in the works for months.
King, with little emotion, read a prepared statement to the court when asked by Judge Franks to tell her what he did.
“On the morning of June 2, I found [Elaina] laying in the bedroom, and she was injured and having trouble breathing. I tried to do CPR on her, but blood started coming out of her mouth and nose,” King said. “She was hardly breathing and she was unconscious. I panicked. I thought she was dying. I covered her mouth and nose with my hand and held it there until she stopped breathing.”
“After Elaina died,” he continued, “I wrapped her body in a bag and hid the body in the garage. I knew what I did was wrong. I gave police misleading, false information about Elaina on that morning and on a number of days after June 2.”
Standing next to her attorney, Jane Roman, Steinfurth entered Alford pleas to charges of murder and obstructing justice, meaning she did not admit her guilt but acknowledged sufficient evidence existed for a conviction. Judge Cook found her guilty and also imposed a sentence agreed upon between Steinfurth and prosecutors.
Steinfurth and King both declined jailhouse interviews Tuesday with a reporter from The Blade.
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The plea agreements had the approval of the baby’s family members, prosecutors said.
First before Judge Franks and then before Judge Cook, Elaina’s father, Terry “T.J.” Steinfurth, Jr., described his youngest daughter as a playful, affectionate child who was full of energy.
“Due to the selfish and senseless acts of Steven King and Elaina’s mother, Angela, the loss has left my entire family with a gaping hole in our hearts,” he said, adding that his 4-year-old daughter, Kylee, cannot understand where her little sister has gone.
Mr. Steinfurth said he is left only with unanswered questions.
“The question that leaves me completely baffled is how anyone can harm an innocent 18-month-old baby girl,” he said. “There is no justification for harming an innocent child. There is no justification for the heartless actions of Angela and Steven.”
Mr. English told the court how Steinfurth had repeatedly misled investigators about the welfare and whereabouts of Elaina — reporting her missing June 2 after her estranged husband came to the Federal Street house to pick up their two daughters and found only their 4-year-old.
The search and investigation that ensued would tap the resources of Toledo police, firefighters, the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard, and countless neighbors and volunteers who scoured the city and local waterways.
Mr. English said it was during a search of the Maumee River that investigators’ suspicions of Steinfurth’s story grew. After two officers searched one particular area of the riverbank, noticing a dead fish with rocks underneath, Steinfurth told them she had found two baby diapers of the size and type Baby Elaina wore — diapers that were now next to the dead fish they’d seen earlier.
“It became obvious to these officers that the diapers were placed in that location in an attempt to corrupt the ongoing investigation,” Mr. English said. “It would be the state’s position it was the defendant who placed the diapers in that location.”
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Steinfurth gave many conflicting statements about what happened over the course of the inquiry, but, Mr. English said, she did admit to investigators that once she became frustrated with Elaina’s crying, she tossed her across the bedroom and Elaina struck the bed and the floor. Elaina’s blood was recovered from the bed, wall, and floor.
“At the time she did this, [King] was present and then shortly thereafter, they engaged in sexual intercourse,” Mr. English said.
By morning, Steinfurth became alarmed when she saw Elaina’s black eye, swollen nose, a lump on her head, and difficulty breathing. Mr. English said Steinfurth admitted she knew Elaina needed medical treatment but did not seek it.
“She told investigators and I quote, ‘Everyone will hate me. No one will forgive me for what I’ve done,’” he said.
She feared the consequences and so she took Elaina to King, who smothered the baby, he said.
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It was King who told authorities they would find Elaina’s remains in an attic area above a litter-filled garage at 704 Federal St. next to the house where he lived and where Elaina died. Police found her severely decomposed remains exactly where he told them on Sept. 5 — a discovery that turned the months-long missing persons case into a homicide investigation.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said at a news conference after the hearings that some members of the public may think her office “made a deal with the devil” when it offered plea agreements to King and Steinfurth.
Mrs. Bates said the “tiny little bones” recovered from the Federal Street garage could not and did not tell the whole story of what happened to Elaina, when it happened, or who did it to her.
“Only part of the story came out of the experts, only part of the answers came from the police department that worked so tirelessly to try to find those answers,” she said. “We ask a lot of questions, and we speculate on things, but there are things we would never have known if we had not made an agreement as to the sentence that was imposed today not only on Mr. King but on the child’s mother as well.”
Mrs. Bates said she believes it was “the just, the right thing to do. We know who the guilty parties are. We know they are convicted of this terrible crime. They are punished for it, and there is some degree of peace for that child, for the family, and for all the people in this community that suffered so much.”
Robert Miller, chief of the special units division for the prosecutor’s office, said two forensic anthropologists who examined Elaina’s remains found “twisting fractures to the left elbow, right elbow, right wrist, right ankle, and left thigh, which would indicate multiple trauma caused to Baby Elaina.”
Three or four of the fractures occurred at or near death, they concluded, although investigators cannot say for sure exactly what happened when to the child, he said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.