Newsmakers 2013: Search for Baby Elaina ends in heartbreakWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaina Steinfurth would have turned 2 on Dec. 20. Instead her life was cut short at the hands of her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
The East Toledo toddler who became known simply as Baby Elaina sparked the concern and compassion of the community, region and even the nation in the months after she was reported missing June 2.
Family, friends and community members who searched, prayed and gathered for vigils and marches were devestated when remains found in a box in the rafters of a garage behind the house in which she was last seen were determined by DNA to be those of Elaina. The cause of death was found to be “non-accidental trauma” and her death was declared a homicide Nov. 6.
On Dec. 3, Lucas County Court of Common Pleas judges handed down life sentences to Elaina’s mother, Angela Steinfurth, and Steinfurth’s ex-boyfriend Steven W. King, for Elaina’s death.
Both pleaded guilty to all charges related to the toddler’s death and signed prearranged 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.
According to prosecutors, 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, King covered Elaina’s nose and mouth with his hand until she stopped breathing, then hid her body in the garage.
Misleading statements from both Steinfurth and King caused investigators to focus on searching in and around the Maumee River at first.
At a news conference following the hearings, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said she hoped the convictions would 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. “[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.”
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.”