UPDATED: Mother, ex-boyfriend take plea deals for Elaina’s deathWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Except for the sniffling of family members, two packed courtrooms were largely silent Dec. 3 as new details emerged about 18-month-old Elaina Steinfurth’s last hours and life sentences were handed down to both her mother and her mother’s ex-boyfriend for her death.
According to prosecutors, Angela Steinfurth became frustrated when Elaina wouldn’t stop crying. She grabbed the toddler by a limb and threw her across a bedroom, where she hit the wall, bed and floor. The next morning, both panicking over the extent of her injuries, Steven W. King covered Elaina’s nose and mouth with his hand until she stopped breathing, then hid her body in the garage.
On Dec. 3, Steinfurth and King pleaded guilty to all charges related to the toddler’s death and signed plea deals.
King, 24, was sentenced to 25 years to life: 20 years to life for aggravated murder, two years for obstruction of justice, two years for tampering with evidence and one year for abuse of a corpse.
Steinfurth, 26, was sentenced to 18 years to life: 15 years to life for murder and three years for obstruction of justice. She signed an Alford plea to avoid other charges, meaning she did not admit to the crimes, but acknowledged there was sufficient evidence for conviction.
‘Deal with the devil’
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said she hopes the convictions — which close a case that has drawn national attention since the girl was reported missing on June 2 — allow family and community members to begin healing.
“You may ask us, ‘Why did we make a deal with the devil here today?’” Bates said during a press conference following the sentencings. “[Everyone involved with the case] did a great deal of soul-searching about making any kind of concession to the killer of a little child.
“[Experts] looked at those bones and gave us some answers, but the answers that they gave us did not answer all of the questions. … There are things we would never have known if we had not made an agreement.
“I believe it was justice,” Bates said. “I believe it was right and true and honorable.”
Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, agreed, noting that the families wanted closure and approved the plea deals.
“Our job is to seek justice. We felt we did that in this case,” Lingo said. “No one got a slap on the hand.”
Steinfurth declined to make any statement in court, but broke down in tears several times. She kept her head on the desk as Assistant Lucas County Prosecuting Attorney Ian English gave an account of what prosecutors allege happened to Elaina.
English said Steinfurth threw the toddler on the evening of June 1 and that King was present when this happened. Elaina was discovered the next morning to have a black eye, swollen nose, bloody lump on the head and difficulty breathing. An autopsy later showed she also had five broken bones, including arms and legs.
King stated in court that he found Elaina unconscious on the morning of June 2 and tried to do CPR on her, but blood started coming out of her mouth and nose.
“I panicked,” King said. “I thought she was dying. I covered her mouth and nose with my hand and held it there until she stopped breathing.”
Afterward, he stated that he wrapped her body in a bag and hid the body in the garage.
Prosecutors also said that between when Steinfurth threw Elaina and King smothered her, the two had sex.
Toledo Police Capt. Wes Bombrys, who is in charge of investigative services, said there were many people at the King house that night, but investigators believe no one else was aware of or involved in the crime.
Statement from father
Elaina’s father, Angela’s estranged husband, Terry Steinfurth Jr., read a statement in both courtrooms, his voice breaking several times.
“She was a playful little girl who was full of energy,” Steinfurth Jr. said of his daughter. “She loved to swing and to chase her older sister Kylee around the house. She was also a very loving baby who loved to be held and cuddled.”
Steinfurth Jr. said his daughter was “strong and determined” and that’s what gave him the strength to keep pursuing justice for her during the past six months.
“She was a fighter,” he said. “Due to being born with problems with her feet, doctors said it would take her longer than normal to be able to learn to walk, but with months of physical therapy she was walking by her first birthday.”
Steinfurth Jr. called the actions of Steinfurth and King “selfish and senseless.”
“The loss of Elaina has left the entire family with a gaping hole in their heart,” he said, adding that his other daughter, 4-year-old Kylee, was affected most and doesn’t understand why her sister is no longer there.
“The question that leaves me completely baffled is how anyone can harm an innocent 18-month-old baby girl in any way,” he said. “Yet I know I will never get the answers to that question because as a loving father I can never comprehend any answer or excuse given. There is no justification for harming an innocent child.”
At one point during Steinfurth Jr.’s remarks, Judge Ruth Ann Franks interrupted him to make sure King was listening.
“Are you listening, Mr. King?” she said. “I want you to listen.”
Franks later told King she believes he should never be released from prison.
“Mr. King, you are a coward,” Franks said. “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, and with cold calculation smothered that little girl. You took the last breath from her and then what did you do? It shows even more about the core of Steven King. … You take the body of that little baby girl and you dispose of it by putting it in a box and storing it in a garage like it’s a piece of trash. It speaks volumes as to how you value life itself, except for your own.”
Judge Gary Cook admonished Steinfurth for her “selfishness and disregard for life,” also noting that she could have chosen to get medical attention for her child’s injuries and faced far less serious charges.
“The description of what occurred in that room and the acts that followed immediately thereafter are extremely disturbing, not only to the folks in this room, but the entire community as well as across our entire country,” Cook said.
Obstruction of justice
Elaina was reported missing June 2 when her father came to pick her up at an East Toledo home belonging to King’s mother. King was living at the Federal Street house and Steinfurth and her two daughters had stayed there June 1. An argument ensued when Steinfurth refused to hand over Elaina, according to several witnesses. Almost an hour after the start of the argument, Steinfurth went in to get Elaina but came out “crying and screaming” that Elaina was gone, according to Terry Steinfurth Sr., Elaina’s grandfather. The family began searching the area for Elaina. They called the police when she could not be found.
Misleading statements from Steinfurth and King caused investigators to focus on searching in and around the Maumee River at first.
On June 6, two diapers were discovered on the riverbank, which investigators believe Steinfurth planted. After asking law enforcement to search a specific location and being told it had already been searched, Steinfurth went to the site herself, returning about 20 minutes later to report she’d found diapers of the type worn by Elaina, English said. Going to look, the officers specifically remembered a nearby dead fish from their original search and realized the diapers could not have been there before.
On Sept. 5, acting on information from King, investigators discovered the toddler’s badly decomposed remains in a box in the rafters of the Federal Street home’s detached garage. DNA tests proved the remains were Elaina’s. The cause of death was found to be “non-accidental trauma” and her death was declared a homicide on Nov. 6.
Officials said the garage was searched June 2, but the search was focused on a missing child at that time and the rafters were not thoroughly searched.
Lingo said he was satisfied with the explanation of events given by the defendants.
“I believe that’s as close as to the truth as we’re going to get,” he said.
Since it’s not clear who actually caused Elaina’s death, it was the opinion of the prosecutor’s office that neither case met the circumstances required to seek the death penalty, Lingo said.
“If you were present in both court rooms, both Angela and Steven both inflicted serious injuries on this child,” Lingo said. “The question is, ‘Was she already dying at the time Steven King did what he did?’ We can never answer that question. And the Supreme Court of Ohio has been pretty clear that you need to be able to establish those kinds of facts before you go forward with the death penalty.”
Family members briefly met with prosecutors and law enforcement after the sentencings before leaving the courthouse to hold a vigil. They declined to speak with media.