ZARA Scruggs should have celebrated her first birthday today surrounded by loving family and friends.
There might have been cake, giggles, happy snaps, games, toys, and other children to play with.
Instead, her father Austin Stevens, 29, appeared by video link in a Pennsylvania court for his preliminary hearing, charged with the 10-month-old baby’s rape and murder.
Stevens, an assistant youth football coach for Lower Providence Warriors, has been charged with first, second, and third-degree murder, rape of a child, aggravated assault, and other related charges.
Wearing a red jumpsuit and black face mask, he watched on from jail as two police witnesses testified separately.
The court heard that Stevens called 911 to report an unresponsive child around 10.40 pm on October 3, approximately an hour after the alleged assault at his residence.
Officer Eric Honick, who responded to the call, told the court he entered the second-story apartment where he saw “Zara laying on the bed … with no clothes on”.
“She was in only a diaper and Mr Stevens was standing at foot of the bed,” Honick said.
“She was unresponsive. Her skin was gray. I picked her up and put her on the floor to begin CPR. She was cold to touch.”
As Honick fought to save the little girl’s life, he asked Stevens to pass him a piece of medical equipment from his bag. He testified that Stevens handed him the wrong item, then “tilted (his head) and shrugged”.
“(He did it) as if he was helping me find a tool in the garage,” Honick told the court.
“It was completely mundane.”
Honick said paramedics soon arrived and started treating Zara in an ambulance.
The court heard the officer then turned to Stevens and asked, “what happened?”.
“He said he was bathing Zara,” Honick said.
“He said he stepped out to make a drink in the kitchen, he heard a thud, Zara began crying and he went back into the bathroom.
“He said he took her out of the tub and brought her into his bedroom and tried to comfort her by rubbing her body until she eventually calmed down.
“He said after he rubbed her body, her head tilted down and she became unresponsive. He said he immediately called police.”
Zara was transported to Einstein Medical Center in Montgomery County where she was pronounced dead.
An autopsy on Zara revealed she was the victim of sexual assault, sustaining rectal trauma and blunt force trauma to the head, which ultimately killed her.
“The Coroner’s Office’s ruling that this 10-month-old baby’s death was homicide confirms what our investigation showed: Zara died a deeply disturbing death at the hands of her father. Stevens will have to answer to murder charges,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele told reporters in October.
“It is hard to imagine this child’s death being any more traumatic: sexual assault on an infant, followed by inaction by the father to save her life, led to her death,” he said.
Detectives later found an unsettling search history in Stevens’ cellphone.
Investigators found that about an hour prior to calling 911, Stevens had conducted multiple Google searches on his cellphone with subjects relating to, “If baby stop breathing,” “What if you don’t hear a baby heart beat,” “My baby isn’t breathing,” and “How do you know if a baby is dead”.
Detective Mike Crescitelli, who interviewed Stevens following his arrest, also testified on Tuesday.
“(Stevens) estimated he Googled for about 15 minutes before he called 911, Crescitelli told the court.
Stevens also conducted social media and text conversations with two women during this time that were not related to the baby’s condition, investigators said.
“He fooled us all I promise you from the bottom of my heart,” Zara’s mom Erica Scruggs wrote on Facebook following her daughter’s death.
“Please do not attack his family or his friends.
“He will pay.”
In a new post earlier today, Ms Scruggs paid tribute to her late daughter.
“Happy birthday to my beautiful baby girl,” she wrote.
“I love you Zara.”
Stevens remains behind bars at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility and will be arraigned at a yet-to-be-scheduled date.
View more information: https://www.the-sun.com/news/1891629/austin-stevens-hearing-for-murder-of-baby-zara-scruggs/