A 7-year-old boy who wrote that he wanted his dad sent to jail for hurting him was in a Baton Rouge courtroom Wednesday when Steven Staggs was sentenced to 40 years in prison by a judge who said the man and his second wife tried to starve the then-20-month-old to death in 2009 for money that was put aside for the child after his mother died.
The boy, now healthy and heading into the second grade, sat in the front row of state District Judge Mike Erwin’s courtroom between his maternal grandmother, Nancy Hoyt, and her husband, David Hoyt, who have adopted him.
Staggs, 32, of Baton Rouge, did not utter a word during the sentencing.
A short victim impact statement written by Staggs’ son was filed into the court record Wednesday, as was a longer statement from his maternal grandfather, Terry Reardon.
“I am mad at Steven,” reads the boy’s letter, on which he drew a small angry face. “I want him to go to jail because he hurt me.”
Before imposing the maximum 40-year sentence on the boy’s father for second-degree cruelty to a juvenile, Erwin looked at Staggs and said, “You disgust me.”
After that, he looked in the boy’s direction and asked, “How are you doing?”
“Good,” the boy replied.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury convicted Staggs on July 1. Another parish jury found Staggs’ second wife, 28-year-old Charlotte Staggs, of St. Gabriel, guilty on the same charge in 2012. Erwin sentenced her that year to 40 years in prison, calling her “sinister and despicable.”
Steven Staggs twice turned down plea offers that would have sent him to prison for 25 years. Charlotte Staggs rejected the same offer once.
Steven Staggs’ son, at 20 months weighing just 15 pounds, was rushed to a Baton Rouge hospital in August 2009 after ingesting fingernail polish remover. He was severely malnourished and extremely dehydrated.
Medical staff also discovered scrapes, bruises and sores on his emaciated body — and a red burn mark from the tines of a fork on his right thigh. Juries at both trials saw photographs of the injuries, including the distinctive burn mark.
“After seeing what you and Charlotte did, the neglect, the condition of my grandson, the injuries he had, starvation, it’s no less than torture,” Reardon wrote in his letter addressed to Steven Staggs. Prosecutor Michelle Lacoste read the letter in court Wednesday.
“I hope the vision of (him) in the condition and state that you two left him in is instilled in your memory, your thoughts, and your dreams at night! You disgust me!!!”
Reardon wrote that justice has been served now that Steven and Charlotte Staggs are both behind bars. He labeled Charlotte Staggs a “despicable woman.”
After the boy’s biological mother, Amanda Staggs, died in a car accident in 2008, a $225,000 structured settlement was placed in a trust for his benefit when he turned 18.
At Charlotte Staggs’ sentencing, Erwin said she “systematically starved” the child in hopes that she could get her “greedy hands” on the money intended for the boy.
Erwin repeated those accusations at Steven Staggs’ sentencing, saying the father stood by while his son was “starving to death.” The reason, the judge said, was “to get your greedy little hands on money that was meant for your son.”
David Hoyt said after court that the criminal case was all about getting justice for the boy.
“We’re just glad it’s all over with,” Nancy Hoyt added.
Charlotte Staggs testified at her trial and denied ever intentionally hurting her stepson. She claimed he burned himself with a fork when she left a bowl of hot noodles unattended on a table. She also denied giving preferential treatment to her two biological children over her stepson.
Steven Staggs took the stand in his own defense at his trial and said he knew nothing about the fork burn on his son’s leg or many of the marks on his body. He said he totally trusted Charlotte Staggs to care for his son and her children while he was at work.
Reardon, in his victim impact statement, stated he finds it hard to believe that Steven Staggs knew nothing about what was happening to his son.
“As his father, it WAS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to protect, take care, nurture and insure the well being of your son — my grandson, my only grandchild from Amanda,” Reardon wrote.
Higher courts have affirmed Charlotte Staggs’ conviction and sentence.