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Baby in Iowa Starved to Death by Parents


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The emergency medical technician was at home when she received the call of an infant in distress in Alta Vista, a small city in northeast Iowa.

Rushing to the scene, the first responder thought she would need to perform CPR or another emergency procedure to assist a child. Instead, she found 4-month-old Sterling Koehn dead in a swing that faced a wall, his fists clenched together, a prosecutor said.

"He was cold to the touch," Assistant Iowa Attorney General Coleman McAllister said Wednesday as part of opening statements in the trial of the boy's mother, Cheyanne Harris. "And she knew then that there was nothing she could do to save Sterling."

Cheyanne Harris talks with defense attorneys Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, at the start of her murder and child endangerment trial in Le Mars, Ia. She is accused neglecting her baby son to the point he died in August 2017 in Alta Vista.

Cheyanne Harris talks with defense attorneys Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, at the start of her murder and child endangerment trial in Le Mars, Ia. She is accused neglecting her baby son to the point he died in August 2017 in Alta Vista. (Photo: Jeff Reinitz/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

Harris, 21, was charged with first-degree murder and child endangerment resulting in death after Sterling died of malnutrition, dehydration and infection. The baby's father, Zachary Koehn, 29, was found guilty of those charges in November. 

Nichole Watt, a Waterloo public defender representing Harris, said while Sterling's death is a tragedy, it was not a planned murder. Harris suffered from postpartum depression and self-medicated, but she had no desire to harm her son, she said. 

 

"The monster, in this case, is mental health," Watt said, telling jurors they would not hear evidence of typical child abuse injuries, such as broken bones or bruises. "You're not going to hear any evidence that she's evil; that's because she's not evil."

Sterling was found dead on a mechanical swing, weighing less than seven pounds, an ounce more than when he was born. Feces in his diaper ate through his skin, allowing E. coli bacteria to enter his bloodstream and cause infection, authorities said.

A photo of 4-month-old Sterling Daniel Koehn is introduced into evidence in the murder trial his father, Zachary Koehn Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018.Buy Photo

A photo of 4-month-old Sterling Daniel Koehn is introduced into evidence in the murder trial his father, Zachary Koehn Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register)

 

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The hot room he was in attracted flies, which laid eggs that hatched into maggots while Sterling was alive; they crawled in his clothes and his diaper for days, prosecutors said. A forensic entomologist who examined insects on Sterling's body concluded the baby had been in his swing for nine to 14 days in the same diaper.

 

Autopsy photographs appeared to show the boy — wearing camouflage pants and a shirt with a cartoon cow above the words "let's play" — bleeding from the mouth.

The infant's father called 911 on Aug. 30, 2017, and lied to the dispatcher when he suggested Sterling died of sudden infant death syndrome, prosecutors said. Chickasaw County sheriff's deputies found the boy's body in a bedroom separate from where Koehn, Harris and their older child slept. 

Photographing the room, a deputy saw scuttle flies as he moved a blanket off Sterling's body, McAllister said. The deputy began preserving evidence, the prosecutor said, because by then, "little Sterling Koehn’s body was a crime scene."

Flyer in an Alta Vista convenience store, shown Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, in Alta Vista, Iowa, in memorial of the death of an infant in August and arrest of the parents. Cheyanne Renae Harris, 20, and Zachary Paul Koehn, 28, were arrested on charges of first-degree murder and child endangerment in connection with the death of their son, Sterling Daniel Koehn.Buy Photo

Flyer in an Alta Vista convenience store, shown Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, in Alta Vista, Iowa, in memorial of the death of an infant in August and arrest of the parents. Cheyanne Renae Harris, 20, and Zachary Paul Koehn, 28, were arrested on charges of first-degree murder and child endangerment in connection with the death of their son, Sterling Daniel Koehn. (Photo: Rodney White/The Register)

As Sterling was left in the swing, the couple continued to clothe and feed their healthy 2-year-old daughter, McAllister said. Harris, a stay-at-home mom, was in the next room as Sterling died slowly, prosecutors said. 

The state medical examiner determined the boy's death was a homicide; his cause of death was listed as failure to provide critical care. In charging documents, a deputy wrote that the case facts "go far beyond neglect."

"She failed little Sterling," McAllister said. 

The case was not one of the parents lacking adequate resources to care for their children, prosecutors said. Koehn made $45,000 a year and had access to health insurance as a truck driver who hauled chickens from Wisconsin to Charles City, Iowa.

Harris' defender told jurors Wednesday at the Plymouth County Courthouse in Le Mars that they may wonder: "What kind of monster could do something like this?" But she said Harris, who reported last using meth weeks before the death, had no ill will toward Sterling.

She began crying after prosecutors showed the jury crime scene photographs. 

 
 
 
 
 
13 Photos
Photos: Zachary Koehn on trial for murder in the death of his infant son
 
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Harris was expected to use intoxication or diminished responsibility as a defense, indicating in court records an Ames psychologist may serve as a witness.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Harris will be sentenced to life in prison. The boy's father, convicted by a Henry County jury, is serving his life term at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Dodge. 

When he took the stand in his own defense, Koehn blamed Harris for the baby's death, saying he "put his trust in the wrong person." But under cross-examination from the prosecution, Koehn admitted he took better care of his dog than he did Sterling.

Harris' trial was moved from Chickasaw County to Plymouth County because of pretrial publicity. Video of the proceedings was being streamed live at lawandcrime.com.

Previous coverage:

Cheyanne Renae Harris, 20, and Zachary Paul Koehn, 28, were arrested on charges of first-degree murder and child endangerment. Their son, Sterling Daniel Koehn, was found dead Aug. 30. Rodney White/The Register

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1 minute ago, jerra- said:

 

the father did nothing at all to help his son.

Yes? So you think mentally ill people attract healthy people? 
 

This thread is a good reason why we should do mandatory sterilization. You can have a child when you prove you can support one mentally, physically and financially. 

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6 minutes ago, DeepBreath said:

Yes? So you think mentally ill people attract healthy people? 
 

This thread is a good reason why we should do mandatory sterilization. You can have a child when you prove you can support one mentally, physically and financially. 

 

they were not poor. 

 

the baby was not the son of the boyfriend, I am positive. no one asked that though, I would have asked if he was the father.

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4 minutes ago, jerra- said:

 

they were not poor. 

 

the baby was not the son of the boyfriend, I am positive. no one asked that though, I would have asked if he was the father.

What does poor have to do with anything? 
 

What evidence do you have? 
 

 

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20 minutes ago, DeepBreath said:

What does poor have to do with anything? 
 

What evidence do you have? 
 

 

 

you mentioned financial support.

 

instead of changing diapers they placed fragrant scents so they would't have to smell anything.

 

this was the willful killing of a baby.

 

I would have like if if at  least one of the lawyers would have asked if he was the father.

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1 minute ago, jerra- said:

 

you mentioned financial support.

 

instead of changing diapers they placed fragrant scents so they would't have to smell anything.

 

this was the willful killing of a baby.

 

I would have like if if at  least one of the lawyers would have asked if he was the father.

Listen, idiot. I mentioned physical, mental AND financial support. 
 

You flunk our of junior high? 
 

You have no business thinking, about anything. 

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5 minutes ago, DeepBreath said:

People who support abortions should be cut in half with scissors and vacuumed up. 

 

This is a PERFECT EXAMPLE of people who should have had an abortion. It would have saved an infant from starving to death, you idiot.

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10 minutes ago, DeepBreath said:

Listen, idiot. I mentioned physical, mental AND financial support. 
 

You flunk our of junior high? 
 

You have no business thinking, about anything. 

 

they had one child who they took good care of, however this baby had meth in his system when he was born, the hospital did not notify the authorities though,

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8 minutes ago, DeepBreath said:

Says the idiot that presented no evidence they wanted an abortion.....😂

 

I never said they did. I couldn't care less what they wanted. They were obviously unfit. They should not have been allowed the choice.

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3 minutes ago, DeepBreath said:

If we add in people unable to support their child the state would be raising 70% of the children in this country. 

 

That's why they should be aborted. Unless you want to pay to raise them. Count me out.

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