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More details presented in Christiansburg toddler's sexual abuse and murder

Steven Meek II

Steven Meek II, 2, died in a hospital two days after suffering what authorities called a massive head trauma.

CHRISTIANSBURG — Prosecutors outlined horrific details Friday of the accusations against McKenzie Kyle Hellman, saying the Christiansburg man told police he convinced his girlfriend to abuse her infant son as part of an exploration of his own sexuality.

Hellman, 26, and Kayla Nicole Thomas, also 26, face an array of charges tied to the Jan. 13 death of Thomas’ 2-year-old son, Steven Dale Meek II, and to investigators’ discovery of a sexually explicit picture of the toddler on Hellman’s phone.

Thomas has been scheduled several times for a plea hearing, now set for March 18 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Hellman’s charges, which include murder and an array of counts tied to abuse and pornography, have lingered all year in the county’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court as questions about Hellman’s mental competency were sorted out.

In October, Hellman was declared competent to stand trial, and on Friday at a preliminary hearing Judge Robert Viar sent Hellman’s case to a grand jury. The grand jury will decide if there is enough evidence to justify a trial in Circuit Court.

Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cristina Agee called a procession of witnesses to describe a long list of abuses and injuries that Steven sustained before his death.

Investigator Nathan Delp of the Christiansburg Police Department recounted questioning Hellman about the picture found on his phone. It showed a young boy being sexually penetrated with an object that was held in a woman’s hand, Delp testified.

Hellman said that the boy in the picture was Steven and that the woman’s hand was Thomas’, Delp said. Hellman said that he was not actually in the room when the picture was taken but had asked Thomas to take it because Hellman wanted to explore his own sexuality, Delp said.

Delp said that Hellman explained that when the picture was taken, Thomas and Steven were in the mobile home’s master bedroom, while he was masturbating in a roommate’s bedroom at the other end of the residence. Hellman said that he wanted to see how a picture of a child’s abuse would affect him and used Facebook Messenger to send a message to Thomas asking her to engage in sexual activity with her son, Delp said.

The electronic message was sent using a feature that was to cause it to disappear after a few moments. But Delp testified that on Thomas’ phone, he found a saved screen shot that appeared to be the message from Hellman.

In it, Hellman said he wanted 30-second videos of Thomas performing explicit acts with her son, and that in addition to other acts, he wanted her to take the object and “poke him with it,” Delp said, reading from the screen shot.

Hellman finished his message by saying that if Thomas did this to her son, “I should be able to touch you again,” but that if the couple did not include another participant in their sex life within a month, “there will be issues,” Delp testified.

Delp said that he asked Hellman why he picked Steven for the abuse. “Because he was the one that was there that day,” Delp said Hellman answered.

Prosecutors played the Jan. 11 911 call in which Hellman said that Steven had been hurt in a fall. Police have said the boy had no pulse when emergency workers reached Zinc Lane but that a police officer and medics managed to restart his heart. Steven was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he died two days later.

On Friday, Christiansburg detective Sgt. Jon Gunter testified that Hellman gave multiple accounts of how Steven was injured, eventually saying that Steven and Hellman’s son, who was also in the home, got into an argument.

Hellman said that he shoved them apart with backhanded blows that hit Hellman’s son in the chest but struck the shorter Steven in the head, Gunter said. Steven fell backwards and hit his head on a dresser, Hellman told police, according to Gunter’s testimony.

Hellman said that he was sorry for what he’d done and that he’d never hit a child that hard before, Gunter testified.

Hellman also gave several versions of what happened after he hit Steven, but said the 2-year-old seemed normal and that it was sometime later that he heard a thump in the boys’ bedroom and returned to find that Steven had collapsed, Gunter said.

Sgt. Michael Vallejo said that he examined a toddler bed in the boys’ bedroom and measured the distance from the top of the mattress to the floor at 13 inches. The floor was padded with a play mat and a carpet, he said.

Dr. Amy Tharp, a state assistant chief medical examiner based in Roanoke, testified that she performed an autopsy of Steven and documented 22 separate blunt force injuries to the boy’s head. There were 13 more bruises on the underside of his scalp, indicating heavy impacts, Tharp said.

Steven had four bruises inside his mouth and more on his anus and inside his rectum, Tharp testified. He had additional injuries on his torso, right arm and left leg, bleeding around and within his brain and optic nerves, and hemorrhaging inside his spinal cord, Tharp said.

The impact to Steven’s head was so hard that the plates of his skull, which are loose in an infant but have grown together by age 2, had begun to pop back open, Tharp testified.

Tharp said that she found Steven’s injuries to be “not consistent with stories I was given” about Hellman’s accounts of a fall. Tharp said her conclusion was that Steven died from blunt injuries to his head.

Defense attorney Fred Kellerman of Christiansburg said he would not put on evidence at Friday’s hearing.

Hellman is charged with murder, child abuse, being an accessory to inanimate object penetration of a child younger than 13, being an accessory before the fact to producing child pornography, being an accessory before the fact to distributing child pornography, and possessing child pornography.

Several more charges were dropped Friday.

Thomas is charged with child abuse, forcible sodomy, inanimate object sexual penetration, producing child pornography, and reproducing child pornography.

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