The mother of a 15-month-old homicide victim testified Wednesday against a man accused of killing the child two years ago in a Miami motel room.
In a preliminary hearing for Travis Steed, Catherine White sobbed continuously as she recalled the details of the days leading up to her daughter’s death.
Steed, White’s 31-year-old ex-boyfriend, is charged with first-degree murder for the alleged beating death of McKenna Jade White, referred to by family members as “bitty,” on Feb. 25, 2006.
Upon examination by District Attorney Eddie Wyant, Catherine White told the court that she and Steed had been in a dating relationship for approximately seven months when her daughter died.
White testified that Steed had been working in the Miami area and was staying at a local motel.
“I had only been there a few days,” said White.
White told the court that she left on the evening of Feb. 24, to go to her parents’ house in Goodman, Mo., to pick up her other three children. She left McKenna at the motel with Steed.
“I left the motel at about 6:45 or 7 p.m.,” White said. “When I left, McKenna was eating cookies and drinking milk.”
Wyant asked White what the physical condition of her daughter was when she left the toddler at the motel on the evening of Feb. 24.
“She had been up walking around and playing,” White said. “She did have four teeth coming in so she was a little cranky. I was giving her Tylenol for her teeth.”
Earlier in her testimony, White admitted that she and Steed had both smoked methamphetamine several hours before she left for Goodman.
White told the court that she had several phone conversations with Steed while she was gone.
“He wanted me to go get more meth for him and I wouldn't,” White said. “The heater was out in my van and all I had was a plug-in heater. I had the three kids with me.”
White said her refusal to get more methamphetamine for Steed made him angry and her phone conversations with him were intensifying. She also testified that she could hear McKenna in the background while she was on the phone with Steed.
White said she returned to the motel sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight on Feb. 24.
According to White, she checked on her daughter shortly after she and her other children arrived at the motel.
“She was laying on her stomache on the far side of the playpen,” White said. “I checked her diaper and it was dry. She was still breathing then.”
White testified that she visited with her children for awhile and then they all went to sleep.
“I got up around 5 a.m. (Feb. 25) and went to the store,” White said. “When I got back, I went to the bathroom and then I noticed ‘Bitty’ was uncovered. She was on the opposite side of the playpen then. I covered her up and went back to bed.”
White said it was between 11 a.m. and noon when everyone woke up.
“The kids were hungry so I called in an order at the restaurant and Travis went to pick it up,” White said. “I noticed that the kids were starting to get loud and the baby wasn’t awake so I went to check on her. She was dead. She was real cold and I tried to turn her over..”
White said she called her mother, then called Steed and told him to hurry.
“Then I called 911,” White said.
On cross examination by attorney Kirk Hauffman, part of a legal team representing Steed, White was asked if she fed McKenna or changed her diaper or picked her up during the 12-hour period between the time she arrived at the motel and the time she found her dead.
White testified that she did not.
“I thought Travis had already done that,” White said.
According to the state’s medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on the infant, the baby died from blunt force trauma to the head. He described a skull fracture at the back of the toddler’s skull which measured more than 5 inches in length.
White, who is facing child neglect charges for her role in McKenna White’s death, waived her fifth-amendment right to testify against Steed in his murder trial.
Steed is scheduled to appear at 10:30 a.m. on March 27 for a ruling. The court will determine at that time whether or not Steed will stand trial for first-degree murder.