A Virginia man already serving two life sentences for the sexual abuse of a child has now pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the child’s death.
On Monday, McKenzie Hellman pleaded guilty to second degree murder and child abuse and neglect in the January 2019 death of Steven Meek II, who was 2 years old.
Hellman was convicted in March of multiple charges of physical and sexual abuse of Meek, including accessory to object sexual penetration of a child, accessory to forcible sodomy, accessory to produce and distribute child sexual abuse material (child pornography), and possession of child sexual abuse material.
He was sentenced to two life sentences for the abuse crimes. His sentencing hearing on the murder charge is set for August 10.
Meek was the son of Hellman’s girlfriend, Kayla Thomas, who has been convicted of multiple charges of sexually abusing her son, and producing child sexual abuse material, according to Virginia court records. She is currently awaiting sentencing on Sept. 23.
At the time, Hellman denied any involvement in Steven’s death, first telling police that Steven and another child, Hellman’s 2-year-old son, were playing and jumping on a bed when Steven fell off and hit his head. Hellman later told police that he couldn’t remember what happened during the incident, and then changed his story again to say that he was breaking up a fight between the two boys, and may have shoved Steven into a dresser, according to a statement from the office of Mary Pettitt, the Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Another child who was present at the time — Hellman’s 2-year-old son — told his mother that Hellman had “hit and kicked” Steven.
Hellman is the one who called 911 on the day of Steven’s death. The emergency personnel “saw that Steven had noticeable bruising to both eyelids and an abrasion to his forehead, was not breathing, and had no detectable heartbeat,” according Pettitt’s office.
Steven was taken to an area hospital, where law enforcement officers told doctors that this was a case of child abuse.
“Steven was found to have retinal hemorrhages, bruises all over his head, and bruises under his arms,” the statement from Pettitt’s office says. “Throughout the weekend Steven failed all brain activity tests. He was removed from life support and died Sunday, January 13.”
The autopsy report about the injuries that caused Steven’s death is disturbing.
An autopsy was conducted by Dr. Tharp of the Medical Examiner’s Office. She noted that Steven had twenty-two separate blunt injuries, bruises and scrapes to his head, including pattern injuries to his forehead and back of his head. She found thirteen additional injuries on the underside of his scalp. Steven had ten external injuries to his torso. In regards to the pattern injuries to both the front and back of his head, Dr. Tharp testified at the preliminary hearing that a pattern injury is when a specific object leaves its imprint on the skin. Dr. Tharp noted that the two separate pattern injuries looked very similar to each other. It is suspected that the pattern injuries were shoe prints – the defendant’s shoes were analyzed by the lab. Due to the insufficient detail present the impression marks on Steven’s head could not be associated with or excluded from the pattern on the defendant’s shoes.
As for the internal examination of Steven’s head, Dr. Tharp testified that the bruises underneath the scalp indicates a significant impact for a bruise to go all the way through. Steven had significant bleeding around his brain. When born our skulls are several bones that are not attached – they are connected by soft tissue. As a baby grows the bones close together to form a solid skull. In Steven’s case, the bleeding around his brain and the pressure was so significant that it popped those bones back open.
Dr. Tharp determined that Steven’s death was caused by blunt force injuries to the head.
Hellman’s guilty plea is not part of a deal, Pettitt told Law&Crime.
“There is no plea agreement. He pled guilty to both charges and there is no agreement as to an appropriate sentence,” Pettitt said in an email.
[Image via Montgomery County Jail]
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