After nearly eight hours of deliberation, a 12-member jury could not reach a unanimous decision in the first-degree murder trial of Travis Steed, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial.
At approximately 6:45 p.m., Thursday, jurors returned to the courtroom where each one told Judge Robert Haney that, even if given more time, the panel would not reach a unanimous decision.
District Attorney Eddie Wyant, who prosecuted the case, said his office will bring the case back to the fall docket.
Steed, 31, of Seligman, Mo., is charged in the death of 15-month-old McKenna White, the daughter of Steed's former girlfriend.
McKenna White was found dead in her crib on Feb. 26, 2006, where she had died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to a medical examiner.
Tuesday, Catherine White, 30, of Goodman, Mo., the toddler's mother, testified that she left her daughter with Steed on the evening of Feb. 25, while she went to Missouri to pick up her three other children.
She admitted before the court that she and Steed had both used Methamphetamine prior to her leaving the Miami motel where the two were staying.
“I left (McKenna) with Travis because it was cold outside and my (car) heater wasn't working,” White said.
Wyant entered cell phone records showing approximately 20 phone calls between Catherine White and Steed while she was gone.
White testified that she and Steed were arguing during most of the calls because he wanted her to go to Arkansas and purchase more Methamphetamine before returning to the motel. When she refused, Steed became angry, White said.
White also testified that she could here her daughter in the background crying.
When White returned to the motel at approximately 11 p.m., she checked on the toddler and noticed that she was taking short, deep breaths, according to her testimony.
“Like she had been crying … like she cried herself to sleep,” White said.
Catherine White stated that she checked on McKenna around 5 a.m. after she returned from a convenience store where she purchased some toiletry items and breakfast sandwiches.
“She (McKenna) had moved positions, so I covered her up and went back to bed,” Catherine White said. “I thought I heard her sucking on a bottle.”
Later, when White checked on McKenna, she said she noticed the she was “ice cold” and “stiff.”
In his closing argument, Wyant suggested to the jurors that Steed was angry because Catherine White would not go to Arkansas and purchase more Methamphetamine. He also suggested that McKenna was fussy and her crying was irritating Steed.
In a tapped interview with detectives Steed is seen lashing his arms back and forth, describing how the toddler would “cry and cry and cry” sometimes.
“In a split second, Mr. Steed snapped,” Wyant said. “He shoved the baby's head into a surface hard enough and with enough force to cause fatal injuries.”
Steed's attorney, Kurt Hoffman, told the jury that the state had proven only one of the three elements necessary to find the defendant guilty.
“A child under the age of 18 has died, there is no argument with that,” Hoffman said. “The state has not proven beyond doubt that the injuries that caused the death were intentional or that Travis Steed caused those injuries.”
Hoffman suggested that Steed was asleep when the injuries occurred.
“Maybe Catherine got up at 5 a.m. and noticed that the baby had a wet diaper,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman told the jury it was possible that Catherine White laid the baby on the vanity in the bathroom area to change the diaper and left her unattended long enough for the baby to fall.
“You've already heard the medical examiner state that he could not rule out that the injury was sustained due to a short fall,” Hoffman said.
In his final argument, Wyant told the jury that it was highly unlikely that the 5-inch fracture to McKenna White's skull was caused by an accident.
Further, both Steed and Catherine White had told authorities that the child had not fallen recently.
“You also heard Catherine's testimony describing McKenna as having short, deep breaths when she checked on her after returning to the motel,” Wyant said. “This type of breathing, as Dr. Sibley (Medical Examiner) testified, is consistent with the type of breathing that would occur following a head injury of this magnitude.”
Throughout the four-day trial, Steed never took the stand. The defense called no witnesses Thursday after the state rested.
Without a unanimous vote of the jury, Haney ordered a mistrial.
“We will return on the fall docket, Oct. 6,” Haney said.
Wyant said he appreciated the time that the jurors took to deliberate.
“This is a tough case,” Wyant said. “We plan to retry in the fall and give 12 more people an opportunity to hear evidence.”
Catherine White is facing charges of child neglect for her role in her toddler's death. She has been in custody in Ottawa County since she was charged last October.
White's parents have been taking care of her other three children since she has been in jail.
“This has been really hard on them,” said Helen White, Catherine White's mother. “They want their mom home.”
After hearing the verdict, Helen White stated that she doesn't know if she can handle another two years of court dates and waiting.