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Plea hearing scheduled in death of Montgomery County toddler

Plea hearing scheduled in death of Montgomery County toddler

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UPDATE 6:58 p.m. Thursday: This story has been updated to include information about Monday's hearing from a Thursday-evening email from Mary Pettitt.

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CHRISTIANSBURG — A Montgomery County man who was convicted in March of sexually abusing and making child pornography of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son — but who still faces a separate trial on a charge of murdering the boy — has scheduled a plea hearing for Monday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt said Wednesday.

McKenzie Kyle Hellman, 27, of Christiansburg was charged with second-degree murder and child abuse after the January 2019 death of Stephen Dale Meek II. A two-day jury trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 10 in the county’s circuit court but would be canceled if Hellman makes a plea and is convicted earlier.

In an email sent Thursday evening, Pettitt wrote that Hellman is expected to plead guilty to both charges. No charges are being dropped and there is no agreement about sentencing, Pettitt wrote.

Hellman’s attorney, Fred Kellerman of Christiansburg, did not reply to a Wednesday message seeking comment on the plea hearing.

Hellman has not yet been sentenced for the convictions he received in March, when a jury deliberated for about half an hour before declaring him guilty of being an accessory before the fact to object sexual penetration, to sodomy by force, to the production of child pornography, and to the distribution of child pornography. The jury also found him guilty of possessing child pornography.

The March jurors — who only heard evidence about the sexual abuse and were not told that Stephen later died from blunt force injuries to his head — recommended that Hellman be given two life sentences plus another 45 years in prison.

Stephen’s mother, Kayla Nicole Thomas, also 27, had her own jury trial in June and was convicted of inanimate object sexual penetration, forcible sodomy, making child pornography, and distributing or electronically transmitting child pornography.

Thomas was not charged with her son’s death.

Thomas’ jury recommended a punishment similar to Hellman’s: two life sentences plus 10 years. She has a sentencing hearing scheduled for Sept. 23.

Testimony at Hellman’s and Thomas’ trials, and at earlier hearings for Hellman, detailed how Stephen died at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital two days after a 911 call brought rescue workers to the home he shared with his mother, Hellman and Hellman’s young son.

Hellman said that Stephen had fallen out of his bed, but doctors discovered a long list of injuries that were not consistent with that. Then investigators found a picture on Hellman’s phone of the 2-year-old being sexually abused.

Officers learned that the image was a still from videos they found on Thomas’ phone, along with messages in which Hellman urged Thomas to abuse her son — and said the abuse was a requirement if she wanted to save her relationship with Hellman.

At the two trials, jurors watched videos that Thomas made of herself committing sexual acts on her son, and read the messages from Hellman instructing her in what to do.

In testimony or through their attorneys, Thomas and Hellman acknowledged the abuse but blamed each other for causing it.

As for Stephen’s death, investigators testified at an earlier hearing in Hellman’s case that he eventually gave several accounts of how, several days after the sexual abuse, the boy received fatal injuries.

Besides saying Stephen fell out of bed, Hellman said Stephen had fought with his son and that in separating them, Hellman hit Stephen. Hellman also said that he pushed Stephen, who fell and hit his head, investigators said.

But at a December 2019 hearing, an assistant state medical examiner testified that an autopsy of the 2-year-old found 22 separate blunt force injuries to his head, along with injuries to his torso, right arm and left leg, bleeding around and in his brain and optic nerves, and hemorrhaging inside his spinal cord.

That was in addition to wounds that seemed more directly tied to the sexual abuse, the assistant medical examiner said.

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