Tuesday, July 25, 2017

In Rememberance of Riley Ann Sawyer and Lilly Belle Burk

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents…. They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishments for concealed sins. And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul? -John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”
   On their anniversary, for as long as Joyce’s Take is active and being published, as much as it is possible, I will post the stories below of Riley Ann Sawyers and Lilly Belle Burk, who were brutally murdered two years apart, on July 25th, 2007, and July 24th, 2009 respectively.
   Riley Ann
Sunday, September 20, 2009
   It's terrifying to write this. So I won't. The following are actual excerpts from various news reports:
   On Oct. 29, 2007, fisherman Robert Spinn of Bayou Vista found a storage container on an uninhabited island about a mile offshore in Galveston Bay, Texas. It contained cement and a blonde toddler wrapped in three plastic bags. "I ripped the bags (in the container) open with some fishing pliers. I saw a shoe. I knew it was a person." Sheriff’s investigators named the girl “Baby Grace” and embarked on 26-day media blitz to confirm her identity.
   Nellie Zeigler heard about “Baby Grace” on a talk radio program and found an artist’s sketch of her on the Internet.
   The toddler's identity was a mystery for weeks until Sheryl Sawyers of Ohio, saw an artist's sketch of the girl and told authorities in Texas she thought it was her granddaughter. The call from Sheryl Sawyers led authorities to Royce Clyde Zeigler II (24) and Kimberly Dawn Trenor (19), who had invented a story that their daughter, Riley Ann Sawyers had been taken away by child welfare officials in Ohio.
   Riley was born and lived in Ohio until her mother Kimberly separated from Robert Sawyers, and took Riley to Texas last summer. Kimberly met Royce Zeigler playing the online game World of Warcraft, and had an online relationship with him.
   Kimberly's defense attorney portrayed Trenor as a scared 19-year-old girl who had moved to Texas from Ohio to marry a man she met while playing an online game, and after two brief encounters. She said Riley's father, her former boyfriend, had assaulted her and Zeigler was her "knight in shining armor, her Texas cowboy."
   They married June 1st, 2007, and settled in Spring, Texas.
   Although Zeigler's mother Nellie, and her husband didn’t approve of “ready-made marriages,” she said the family opened their home to Trenor and Riley and quickly came to love and adore the vibrant, charismatic and intelligent toddler who brightened their lives.
   Nellie Zeigler recalled going to the couple’s home in June to deliver milk and snacks, saying she knocked on the door, but it took Trenor a while to answer. "Kim had a belt wrapped around her shoulder," Nellie Zeigler testified.
   The following week, Nellie Zeigler picked up Riley on Saturday morning, eventually changed
her diaper and was disgusted with what she saw.
   “Her little butt was bruised, greenish, yellowish, purplish, and I got mad,” Mrs. Zeigler said. “I
let her watch cartoons, anxious for Kim and Royce to come over."
   Nellie Zeigler told the couple she disapproved of the belt discipline, saying both dropped their heads."Mom. This is never going to happen again," Nellie said of how her son replied. "After that, I never saw bruises on her again."
   The weekends of mall shopping and bonding ended abruptly with Riley’s death July 25, 2007, and Nellie Zeigler would spend the next four months agonizing over the whereabouts of the “sunshine of our lives.”
   Nellie Zeigler eventually learned Ohio officials didn’t have Riley, and she and her husband confronted Trenor, asking her why she wouldn’t tell authorities her girl was kidnapped.“My husband said, ‘Kim. You’re lying,’ and the third time he asked, she jumped up and starts to cuss us out,” Nellie Zeigler testified. “She shot the finger at us and said ‘F---you! F---you! F---you!’”
   The confrontation continued upstairs, Nellie said. "What kind of mother are you?’” Nellie Zeigler said. “‘You show no emotion. You never talk about her. You never seem to care where
she's at.' I'm crying and she's smiling at me."
   The two had more heated words, when Trenor said, “You’re going to pay for this,” Nellie Zeigler testified. The couple left, she said.
   Royce Zeigler worked for a company contracted to create schedules for petrochemical companies, earning $54,000 annually. The fatal beating happened after Zeigler stayed home from work to make sure his wife was following his discipline plan, the defense said.
   According to Trenor's attorney, Tommy Stickler Jr., Zeigler wanted Trenor to spank Riley with a belt when she failed to say things like "please" and "yes sir" or "no sir." Zeigler didn't believe Trenor was doing it, however, because the 2-year-old's behavior wasn't changing. A list was found by authorities after the arrest of the couple for the murder of Riley, the list, called "Rules for Riley," included such things as "being polite," "behaves in public," "toys stay in her room" and "listen to mom & me." There was space for a 10th item on the list but it was left blank.
   During her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kayla Allen detailed for jurors the day that she said Riley Ann died for forgetting to say "please" and "yes, sir. "Allen said that on July 25th, 2007, Trenor and Zeigler disciplined Riley by whipping her with a belt, pushing her head against a pillow and holding her head under water. She said Zeigler grabbed Riley and tossed her across the room, fracturing her skull. An autopsy concluded the skull fractures caused her death. Riley died of three skull fractures she received when Zeigler, threw the child across the room, authorities said.
   Riley Ann Sawyers tried to stop her mother and stepfather from beating her to death by reaching out to her mother and saying, "I love you," assistant district attorney Kayla Allen told jurors earlier in the day during her opening statement. The toddler's pleas didn't stop her mother from brutalizing her, the prosecutor said. "To the very end, Riley said, 'I love you' to her mom. She's reaching out," Allen said. "That's her lifeline, to her mother. What does Kim do after hearing her say I love you? She starts beating her."
   "I said we have to get her to a hospital. (Zeigler) said, 'No we can't. We'll go to jail,' " Trenor said in the videotape, crying. "There came a point where she stopped breathing. He started doing CPR on the floor. He took her ... and handed her over to me. I could just feel her going cold."
   At the defense table, Trenor's eyes teared up as she watched the videotape on a large screen.
   Several jurors wiped away tears.
   Galveston County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Pustilnik Testified that any one of three skull fractures he found during his autopsy could have killed Riley. He said that it would have been apparent within seconds of one of the fractures that Riley was in need of medical help. Symptoms included a change in body temperature, headache and the inability to stand up, he said, all symptoms described by Trenor in her statement to investigators. She said that Zeigler accused Riley of faking when she was unable to stand.
   After Riley was killed, beaten so badly that Trenor said Zeigler complained of it making his shoulder sore, the couple bought a plastic container, partially filled it with cement, stuffed her beaten body inside and stored it in a shed for two months. They tried to bury it in a wooded area north of their home, but when that failed, they dumped it in Galveston Bay in September.
   The seven-woman, five man jury took less than two hours to convict Kimberly Trenor of capital murder in the slaying of her 2-year-old daughter. Trenor will receive an automatic life sentence without parole because prosecutors did not seek the death penalty due to technical reasons peculiar to Texas law. Jury foreman Randal Rothschild said it didn't take the panel long to reach a verdict because we had all the evidence. Apparently the jury felt it was pretty cut and dried. As his eyes teared up, Rothschild added, "It was a very emotional trial."
   Zeigler will be tried for capital murder in a separate trial. No date has been set yet.
   The island where the toddler's body was found was officially renamed "Riley's Island." A wooden cross bearing a plaque with her name was placed there as a memorial, but Hurricane Ike washed it away on Sept. 13.
   A Mr. Miller, who made that cross, said he is making a new one and hopes that he and Riley's family can place it on the island later.
   "It's sad the cross is gone. But as much damage as the hurricane did, I was afraid the whole island would be wiped away," he said. "God did not want that to happen. The cross will be put there again in her honor."
   In Mentor, Ohio, pink balloons were released into the wintry sky after the funeral for Riley. Some of the balloons had cards attached with her picture and an address where the finder could return it to her family in northeast Ohio. The balloon release coincided with similar releases around the world in memory of the toddler, who had been nicknamed Baby Grace.
   "People all over the world adored this child. She was loved and cherished by everyone," Riley's great-uncle, Mike Nebelski, said in a eulogy.
   "Let's not forget Riley. Let's not forget all the other kids out there who are missing," he said.
   After the service and balloon release, the funeral procession left for Mentor Cemetery for burial of the 36-inch coffin. Inside was an urn with the girl's ashes and various other items, including a dress and a stuffed animal toy.
   Riley Ann Sawyers was with us for 866 days. Her online memorial can be found here.
   On November 6, 2009, Royce Zeigler was convicted of capital murder and received an automatic sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
                                                                Lily Belle Burk
   Soon the donut and noodle people came. The line had grown to over a block long. I got mine, seven donuts, and I took the soup too, then was on my way home.
Unbeknownst to me, and unknown to me until Monday morning, approximately and hour and forty five minutes before I secured my 7 donuts, the body of Lily Belle Burk, age 17, was found near the intersection of Fifth St. and Alameda, about a block from my box. She was discovered by an employee of a nearby business, presumably the same gas station where Paul and I had inflated his dolly's tires a few days previously (see, Puzzles & Bricks). She was found in her own black Volvo, in the passenger seat, apparently having been bludgeoned to death and her neck slashed. There were signs of a struggle.
   She had left her home in Los Feliz the day before at about 2:30 to pick up some papers for her mother from the Southwestern University School of Law, where her mother worked as an adjunct professor. About an hour later she made calls to both of her parents asking them how she might get cash from an ATM machine using her credit card, something her card was not set up to do.    Her parents state that she did not sound distressed.
   She did not return Friday night and her parents contacted police and filed a missing persons report.
   The next morning her body was discovered. Police estimate she had been dead from 5:00PM the day before.
   That Friday at 5:30PM, Charlie Samuel, aged 50, was arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia on 3rd Street. His fingerprints were discovered in Lily's Volvo and is now being held on suspicion of murder without bail. Sources said Samuel had a previous history of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and kidnaping, and if he did indeed kill that lovely young girl I am ashamed that I am against the death penalty.
   From the LA Times: "The thing we want people to know about Lily is that she was a beautiful person and that she was looking forward to her life. She was funny, warm, kind and empathetic. She was deeply and widely loved," read the statement from her parents, Deborah Drooz and Gregory Burk, a Times freelancer who writes about pop music.
   Burk was supposed to begin her senior year at Oakwood School in North Hollywood in the fall.
She was set to star in her high school's production of a David Mamet play and planned to volunteer helping the homeless this summer."
   Dear Erin, I hope your heaven is real, and Lily now resides there.
   My sincere condolences go to her parents, family, and friends.
   May she rest in peace.
   Update from NBC Los Angeles, May 28th 2010:
   Charlie Samuel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the July 24, 2009, slaying of Lily Belle Burk. During the sentencing hearing, he apologized to the girl's family.
   He pleaded guilty first-degree murder, kidnapping to commit robbery, second-degree robbery, attempted first-degree ATM robbery, carjacking and kidnapping for carjacking. He admitted special circumstance allegations of murder during a carjacking, kidnapping and robbery.
   The plea deal saved him from a possible death sentence

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