Attorney: Mom's interrogation after twin deaths was improper

Shweta Karikehalli | The Daily StarDefense Attorney Andrew Van Buren, left, cross-examines Otsego County Sheriff’s Office Investigator William Henn, right, while Otsego County Court Judge John Lambert, center, presides at the Otsego County Courthouse on Wednesday, March 4. 

COOPERSTOWN — The defense attorney for Kimberly Steeley, who is accused of causing the 2018 deaths of her twin infants, argued that investigators unfairly elicited a confession from his client at the third day of her trial Wednesday, March 4 at the Otsego County Court House.

Steeley was charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter for the June 2018 deaths of her twins, Bonde and Liam. The children were less than 2 months old when they died 11 days apart, both of asphyxiation, and both after sleeping in bed with her and their father, Thomas Hewitt, in the East Worcester home they all shared with Steeley’s parents.

If convicted, Steeley could face up to 30 years in prison — 15 years for each charge, Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl said.

Hewitt and Steeley initially told police the children were each found unresponsive in their bassinet. According to Otsego County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Investigator William Henn, who testified Wednesday, Steeley told him she lied because she was “fearful of making trouble.”

Hewitt testified Tuesday that he sought out state police investigator Leslie Burton and Henn on Sept. 5, 2018, two days after being arrested for a DWAI (driving while ability impaired), to talk to them about Steeley’s involvement in the children’s deaths.

Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl asked Henn what Hewitt told them. According to Henn, Hewitt told them he believed Steeley murdered Bonde and Liam. Based on this information, the investigators arranged to interview Steeley the same day they met with Hewitt, Henn said.

“So your questioning directed to Ms. Steeley was trying to obtain a confession for murder?” Defense Attorney Andrew Van Buren asked Henn on cross-examination.

Henn said they were looking for a confession or for the truth of what happened to the babies.

Van Buren asked Henn if Hewitt seemed like he was under the influence during the Sept. 5 meeting. Henn said he seemed “a little off” but was able to hold a conversation. When Van Buren pressed him about this, Henn said there may have been a “slight impairment.”

“You were getting important information from someone,” Van Buren said. “Wouldn’t you feel it was important to make sure they were in the right state of mind?”

The jury watched videos of Steeley’s Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 interviews with the investigators at the State Police Oneonta Barracks. On Sept. 5, Steeley told them that she never intended for both children to sleep in the bed. She had the children in her lap after changing and comforting them but fell asleep before she could put them to bed in their bassinet, she said.

In the video, Steeley told investigators two conflicting stories about where Liam was found unresponsive, Van Buren said.

“She told you two things really — that Liam was found in essentially the same position as when she laid him down,” Van Buren. “She also told you that when she woke up, she found Liam off of the pillow and Liam was between herself and the pillow.”

Van Buren asked Henn if, during Steeley’s Sept. 6 interview, he only asked Steeley to confirm that she found Liam off the pillow, which Henn confirmed.

“You got the answer you were looking for when she admitted, when she said, that Liam was between her and the pillow,” Van Buren said. “That’s the answer you were looking for, and that’s the answer you were going with right?”

Henn answered that he was going with “the truth, and what would support criminal charges.”

Van Buren also asked why the investigators didn’t have Steeley sign a confession and instead relied on her audio and video statements.

“I think the audio and video recording were sufficient in this case,” Henn said. “I don’t think it changes the weight of the confession.”

The trial will continue Thursday.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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