Iowa mother who let infant son rot to death by leaving him in maggot-infested diaper and urine-soaked blankets found guilty of murder
A jury took four hours to convict 21-year-old Cheyanne Harris of first-degree murder and child endangerment causing death
An Iowa mother was found guilty of first degree murder after her neglect led to the death of her 4-month-old son, whose body was found on a baby swing in a sweltering bedroom covered in a urine-soaked blanket, wearing a maggot-infested diaper.
According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, jurors at the Plymouth County Courthouse in Le Mars took all of four hours to find 21-year-old Cheyanne Harris guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Sterling Koehn, and which carries a mandatory life sentence without parole, and child endangerment causing death.
Harris' boyfriend and Sterling's father, 29-year-old Zachary Koehn, was previously convicted in under two hours on charges of child endangerment that caused the death of the infant. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, which is the same sentence Harris is expected to receive.
According to reports, when authorities responded to the Alta Vista, Chickasaw County house on August 30, 2017, the scene they came across would not have looked out of place in a horror movie.
Four-month-old Sterling was found lifeless and bleeding from the mouth on a swing in one of the bedrooms.
Witnesses at Harris's trial said her apartment smelled of urine and feces and decay which only got worse as they entered the bedroom where they found Sterling. They said they found the infant's blanket and swing seat drenched in urine, noticed maggots in his clothing and on him, and small flies on his body as well, with Chickasaw County Chief Deputy Reed Palo testifying, "In that room, it was like you didn’t want to breathe."
Harris had also confessed to Palo she had not taken him for a check-up since he was born. His diaper had not been changed in more than a week, with the Daily Mail reporting that a forensic entomologist estimated Sterling had been in his swing for nine to 14 days to have been in his condition.
A subsequent autopsy determined Sterling had died of malnutrition, dehydration, and infection from diaper rash. Speaking at the hearing, prosecutor Coleman McAllister said evidence would prove the four-month-old "suffered in the last hours and days before his death" and that the infant had been left "unloved, uncared for, and unaided by his mother" who was in the next room the whole time.
Harris' two-year-old daughter was also found at the apartment, but was healthy and did not seem to have suffered any injuries. McAllister said it wasn't a case of a family who did not have the resources or the expertise to care for a child — Harris reportedly earned $45,000 a year and had access to health insurance.
It was also a point proven via the testimony of Chickasaw County deputies who said they found everything needed to care for the baby inside the home. Deputy Jason Rosol told the jury he found new diapers bundled in rubber bands as if received as a gift in the same room where the infant had died. He also said they found a tube of baby ointment, which could have been used to treat the diaper rash, in the room and a baby bottle with milk starting to separate near the swing.
Authorities also found two cans of formula in a kitchen cupboard over the sink and a supermarket receipt in Harris' purse showing the 21-year-old had made $123.33 worth of purchases just four days before they responded to the 911 call at her home.
Harris' defense attorney, Nichole Watt, insisted his client was not a monster and pointed to how the mother had revealed she had been taking medication for postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter but had stopped because it made her sick.
"The monster, in this case, is mental health. The monster, in this case, is depression," he argued to jurors.
In the end, the prosecution triumphed.