Three years after his second wife was convicted on the same charge, a Baton Rouge man was found guilty Wednesday of second-degree cruelty of his then-20-month-old son — a boy the prosecutor said is lucky to be alive after hospital staff found scrapes, bruises and sores on his emaciated body in 2009 and a burn mark from the tines of a fork on his leg.
State District Judge Mike Erwin ordered Steven Staggs, 32, held without bail until he is sentenced July 15. Staggs had been free on bail before trial.
After an East Baton Rouge Parish jury convicted Staggs by an 11-1 vote following about two hours of deliberation, Erwin told the panel he sentenced Charlotte Staggs, 28, to the maximum 40 years in prison in 2012 after she was found guilty of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile.
“I’m probably going to do the same thing to Mr. Staggs,” the judge told the seven women and five men before they left his courtroom.
Steven Staggs turned down a plea offer Monday that would have sent him to prison for 25 years.
Staggs’ son, who is now 7, was rushed to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center on Aug. 23, 2009, after ingesting fingernail polish remover while he was alone with his father in their Baton Rouge apartment.
At 20 months, he weighed just 15 pounds and was severely malnourished and dehydrated, doctors testified at the trial.
The boy now lives with his maternal grandmother, Nancy Hoyt, and her husband. They adopted him. Hoyt’s daughter and Steven Staggs’ first wife, Amanda Staggs, died in a car accident in mid-2008 when the boy was about 6 months old.
“I’m just so glad this is over,” Hoyt said outside Erwin’s courtroom. “We can have a little bit of peace now.”
She said her grandson is a happy child who can now live a less stressful life.
“He’s not a hundred percent yet, but he’s getting there,” Terry Reardon, the boy’s maternal grandfather, added. “I’m just glad it’s over and the truth is out in court. We waited six years for the end of this.”
Steven Staggs’ attorney, Bo Rougeou, also appeared relieved that the trial was over.
“It was a terrible case, one that I was not excited to be a part of,” he acknowledged afterward.
Rougeou told the jury in his closing argument earlier Wednesday that Charlotte Staggs was a bad stepmom who hid the boy’s injuries from his father.
“It’s easy to play the blame game,” prosecutor Michelle Lacoste countered. “He’s trying to minimize his involvement in this. He’s trying to minimize his involvement in (his son’s) life.”
Lacoste told the jury it was impossible for Steven Staggs not to notice his son’s condition in 2009. She said the boy was the victim of mistreatment, neglect, torture, abuse and cruelty.
“Mr. Staggs failed to care for his son and failed to speak up for his son,” she argued, asking the jury to speak up for the boy.
Charlotte Staggs testified at her own trial that her stepson burned himself with a fork when she left a bowl of hot noodles unattended on a table.
She did not testify at Steven Staggs’ trial.
Medical personnel testified at both trials that the fork burn did not appear to be accidentally caused and said a fork likely was pressed against the boy’s thigh for several seconds to leave such an impression on his skin.
Charlotte Staggs also claimed the boy fell down often and would throw himself off a sofa.
Steven Staggs took the stand in his own defense Tuesday and said he knew nothing about the fork burn or many of the marks on his son’s body. He said he trusted Charlotte Staggs, who cared for his son and her children while he was at work.