With his wife already convicted and serving a 40-year prison term, a Baton Rouge man accused of abusing his then-20-month-old son in 2009 turned down an offer to plead guilty Monday in return for a 25-year sentence.
The boy, now 7, was severely malnourished, dehydrated and had bruises and scrapes on his body when he was taken to the hospital in August 2009 after ingesting fingernail polish remover. Medical personnel discovered a blistered imprint of the tines of a fork on his right thigh.
Steven Staggs, 32, who turned down a similar plea deal in 2012, insisted in court Monday morning that he is innocent. A jury was chosen in the afternoon, paving the way for opening statements and testimony in the second-degree cruelty to a juvenile trial to be heard Tuesday.
Staggs’ attorney, Bo Rougeou, said East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors offered to let Staggs plead guilty as charged and receive a 25-year sentence without a presentence investigation, or plead guilty with a presentence investigation but with the caveat that state District Judge Mike Erwin may or may not give him 25 years.
“The maximum is 40,” the judge cautioned Staggs, noting that if Staggs goes to trial, he runs the risk of being convicted and sentenced to up to 40 years.
“I’m pleading not guilty, sir,” he told Erwin.
Charlotte Staggs, 28, the boy’s stepmom, was found guilty in 2012 of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and given the maximum 40-year term by Erwin. That jury deliberated just 15 minutes.
She also turned down a 25-year plea deal.
At her November 2012 sentencing, Erwin called Charlotte Staggs, of St. Gabriel, “one of the most sinister and despicable persons I’ve ever been involved with.”
After the boy’s biological mother died in an accident in 2008, a $225,000 structured settlement was placed in a trust for the child for his benefit when he turned 18.
Erwin charged at Charlotte Staggs’ sentencing that she “systematically starved” the boy in hopes of getting her “greedy hands” on the money.
She denied ever intentionally harming her stepson or giving preferential treatment to her two biological children over her stepson. In addition, she testified he burned himself with a fork when she left a bowl of hot noodles unattended on a table.
A pediatrician testified at Charlotte Staggs’ trial that the boy was so dehydrated when brought to the hospital that he was “on his way to renal failure.”
The boy was later adopted by his grandparents.