Riley Ann Sawyers

This is one of those stories that just breaks your heart when you hear it because it involves a completely innocent child.  Not only was this child viciously beaten and killed but she was thrown away like she was trash, something no one, especially a child, deserves.

On October 29, 2007 a man was out fishing in the Galveston Bay in Texas and came across some sort of a container that had washed up a small area in the water.  When he began to open it what he found startled him and he immediately called 9-1-1.  When authorities arrived, they too were shocked.  Inside the container lay the remains of what appeared to be a small child. As they do they scoured their missing children's database but found nothing.  In the meantime the coroner took the body for examination.  It was pretty apparently just by looking that there was a skull fracture involved.  The coroner also determined that this was a female child.  A forensic dentist was called in and they determined an age of between two and three.  Beyond this little was known.   The information went out to the press and she was dubbed Baby Grace.  It became imperative that they identify her and find out who was responsible for her death.

Meanwhile back in Ohio Sheryl Sawyers and her son, Robert had been trying to contact Robert's ex-girlfriend, the mother of Robert's child, Riley Ann, who had abruptly moved to Texas that past May.  They had been trying for months and could not reach anyone.  They did have an address and they knew that Riley Ann's mother, Kimberly Trenor had gotten married since moving to Texas, but other than that they had very little. Then on November 7, 2007 Sheryl came across a description of Baby Grace on a website. She just knew from the description of the child, but especially of the clothing worn by the child that it had to be Riley Ann.  She obviously called the authorities.  At least now the police had a tip to go on.  They were able to track down Kimberly and her new husband, Royce Zeigler Jr.  They initially had a cursory interview with them and they informed authorities that Ohio Child Protective Service had come and taken Riley several months prior.  At the very least the officers were skeptical.  If they were not fully aware immediately, they would soon learn that despite being from Ohio, as well as having a custody order from there as well, that if CPS were involved that Texas would be the one handling it, not Ohio.  While DNA results were being conducted and everyone awaiting the results, authorities put more pressure on Kimberly and Royce.  

Kimberly Trenor and Robert Sawyers had met and started dating while in high school. When Kimberly was 15 she discovered that she was pregnant.  She moved in with Robert and his mother, Sheryl and while the couple never married she did give birth to Riley Ann on March 11, 2005.  Kimberly and Robert's relationship did not last. For a while they both continued living with Sheryl but did not remain a couple.  Robert started dating Catherine Priester, and they would later marry and have children of their own.  In October of 2006 Kimberly filed a domestic violence report against Robert and he moved out of the house, leaving Kimberly and Riley Ann living with his mother.  My research found little about this incident as to what occurred and if it was anything more or less than what it may have seemed. I thought it a bit odd that Robert moved out of the house and yet she remained living with Sheryl, who had actually become it seems Riley Ann's primary care giver.  I also found little regarding Kimberly's family so I am unsure if her moving was not an option and this was just something that seemed to be the best solution or if the incident had been particularly violent and everyone just agreed that Robert moving out would be the best course to take.  Kimberly remained at Sheryl's until late May of 2007.  During that time she had apparently begun playing the PC game, World of Warcraft and had met Royce Ziegler Jr. online while playing that game.  In May she abruptly moved out of Sheryl's home, taking Riley Ann with her and moved to Texas to be with Ziegler.  She had apparently spoken to Robert, even if briefly and they agreed that she would have custody of Riley Ann with Robert having visitation rights.  Kimberly and Royce wasted no time once she was in Texas however and they were married on June 1, 2007.  

So now here we were, less than six months after she left Ohio and things had already apparently gone sour, at least between Kimberly and the Sawyers.  Apparently initially there was contact with the Sawyers but since July there had been nothing. Now a child has been found in the Bay that closely resembled Riley Ann and while Kimberly and Royce had been found, Riley Ann had not been with them.  DNA results would not be in until November 30, 2007 to officially confirm just who Baby Grace was but authorities were pretty certain.  Then on November 24th, six days before the official results were in Kimberly sat down once more with authorities and she left no question as to who Baby Grace was.  

According to the statement that Kimberly gave to authorities on the 24th, once moving to Texas to be with Royce Ziegler Jr things had gone awry.  According to Kimberly, Royce felt that Riley Ann was not properly disciplined.  He was a "southern man" who believed in the idea of children responding with "Yes Sir" and "No Sir" as well as corporal punishment.  Now, let me be clear in my feelings when it comes to this area.  Personally I have no issue with training a child proper manners, nor do I necessarily have an issue with spanking.  I know that there is a "movement" against corporal punishment and that many do not believe in it, but I, like most that do believe in it, know there is a line between discipline and abuse.  It is a line that should not be crossed and when it is, there is obviously a problem.  Kimberly went on to tell the authorities that on July 24, 2007 Ziegler had taken off work for the day simply for the reason of "training" Riley Ann and apparently making sure that Kimberly knew what he thought should be done when it came to discipline.  She said that throughout the day that Riley Ann had been beaten with a belt, her head held under water and her face smashed into the couch and a pillow. With these incidences she apparently indicated that she had helped Royce but then claimed that at some point he had picked Riley Ann up by her hair and had "thrown" her across the room where her head slammed on the floor.  She said Riley Ann had tried to stand up and could not.  At some point or another Kimberly and Royce determined that Riley Ann had died.  Kimberly said that they then went to a local Walmart and bought a plastic storage container.  They returned home and wrapped Riley Ann's body in trash bags and put her in the container.  The container was placed into a shed for approximately two months when it was moved due to the fear that the smell would alert someone. At that point they loaded up the container and took it to the Bay to dispose of it. Kimberly also claimed that after the body had been discovered Royce had instructed her to forge a letter that appeared to have come from the Ohio Department of Children's Services to show authorities in case they came looking for Riley Ann.  

Kimberly and Royce were initially arrested and charged with injury to a child and evidence tampering.  This was later upgraded to capital murder.  Kimberly was convicted on May 9, 2009 of capital murder (she pleaded guilty to evidence tampering) and received a sentence of life with parole in 38 years.  On November 6, 2009 Royce was convicted of capital murder (not sure the ruling on his evidence tampering) and was sentenced to life without parole.   I find it extremely odd, especially since this was a Texas case, that the death penalty was not sought against either of the defendants.  Although Kimberly was young, she was at least 18 when the crime occurred considering she was 19 when she was arrested a few short months later.  I could have understood no death penalty against either of them if Kimberly had been under 18 since legally it could not have been sought against her and considering it was a crime they both committed it may have been difficult to sentence Royce to death when the mother of the child, who admitted her participation, did not.  But, again, she was over the age of 18 when the crime occurred so I do find it odd that the death penalty was not even sought by the prosecutors.

After DNA was confirmed, along with Kimberly's confession and other information they had, authorities determined that they had enough evidence to release Riley Ann's body and so on January 14, 2008 her cremated remains were returned to Ohio where she was given a proper burial.

As a side note, while doing my research on this case I came across something that at the very least irritated me, if not infuriated me. There was an article that referred to what is apparently called the "step-parent syndrome."  I think what irritates me most is that it has a "name."  This supposedly happens when a new spouse "tries to prove" themselves a good parent through discipline and has "unrealistic expectations of a child" before bonding with the child.  Being a step-parent myself, as well as the fact that my husband raised (and later adopted) my children from a previous marriage I believe this is one more thing that gives step-parents a bad name.  Do not take this as meaning that I do not believe things like this happen, because obviously they do, but to label it as a "step-parent syndrome" I believe is unfair.  There are plenty of biological parents who often do the exact same thing.  Are they saying that it is okay to have extreme discipline as long as you bond with the child first??  That is simply ridiculous.  The fact of the matter is that there are horrible people in this world and those who beat children, regardless of their relationship to the child are the worse of the worse.  To label this case in this manner gives good step-parents a very bad name.

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