A Baton Rouge man insisted Tuesday that he had nothing to do with the scrapes, bruises and sores found on his son’s body — or the unmistakable burn mark from the tines of a fork on the boy’s leg — after the emaciated 20-month-old was rushed to a hospital in 2009 after ingesting fingernail polish remover.
Steven Staggs, who faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile, did not directly point the finger of blame at his imprisoned wife but said Charlotte Staggs did care for his son — now 7 — and her children while he was at work for long hours on a tugboat.
“What I learned was I wasn’t always being told the truth,” Steven Staggs, 32, said in front of an East Baton Rouge Parish jury while being questioned by his attorney, Bo Rougeou.
Staggs testified he never saw the fork burn on his son’s right thigh. The jury was shown a photograph of the burned impression.
“Did you give it to him?” Rougeou asked.
“No, sir,” Staggs answered.
“Did you burn him?” Rougeou pressed further.
“No, sir,” Staggs again replied.
Charlotte Staggs, 28, testified at her 2012 trial that the boy burned himself with the fork after she briefly left a bowl of hot noodles unattended on a table.
Jurors also saw photos of scrapes and bruises on the boy’s body.
“Did you do that?” Rougeou asked.
“No, sir,” Staggs responded.
“Did you help Charlotte do that?” Rougeou inquired.
“No, sir,” Staggs said.
Staggs testified in his own defense that he had no reason to distrust Charlotte Staggs, who was found guilty in 2012 of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and is serving a 40-year prison sentence. She is the boy’s stepmother.
Prosecutor Michelle Lacoste went right after Steven Staggs when it was her time to question him.
“Why didn’t you speak up for your son?” she asked loudly.
“I didn’t know all that was going on,” he insisted.
“Who is (the boy’s) father?” Lacoste shot back.
“I am,” Staggs said.
“If I had known about it, me and him would have left,” he said in response to a final question from Rougeou. “If I had known it was this bad, we would have left.”
Dr. Ashley Saucier, who treated the boy in Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center’s pediatric intensive care unit in August 2009, testified for the prosecution just how badly the child was injured when he was brought to the hospital unresponsive.
Saucier said the boy’s jaws were clinched so tightly that it was impossible initially to get a breathing tube down his throat. The doctor said she honestly thought the child was a year old or less, not 20 months.
“We were shocked. He was such a small child. His ribs were showing,” she said.
Nancy Hoyt, the boy’s maternal grandmother who has since adopted him, testified he weighed 18 pounds in July 2008 at 6 months of age. Saucier said he weighed just 15 pounds in August 2009 at 20 months.
Saucier testified the boy had “dropped off the growth curve” for a child his age.
“That’s when it becomes a problem,” she said, adding that he was extremely dehydrated and nearing renal failure when she first saw him at the hospital on Aug. 23, 2009.
“I feel like he’s one of the worst I’ve seen there that lived,” fellow OLOL nurse Kristi Rabalais testified.
The jury also watched Steven Staggs’ videotaped Aug. 29, 2009, interview with then-East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s Detective Joshua Celestin. As he did Tuesday, Staggs told Celestin that he didn’t know what happened to his son.
“That’s going to work real well in front of a jury,” Celestin replied.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday afternoon. Rougeou, the defense attorney, said he will rest his case Wednesday morning. State District Judge Mike Erwin told the jurors that they will be able to deliberate the case Wednesday.
Hoyt said her grandson, now 50 pounds, is coming off a school year of all A’s and will be entering the second grade this year.