An Iowa woman was sentenced to life in prison for the death of her 4-month-old son. Cheyanne Harris 0f Alta Vista, Iowa left her son in a mechanical swing for more than a week. Authorities found her son, Sterling Koehn, dead in a maggot infested diaper in a mechanical swing.
In August 2017, Zachary Koehn called 911 and lied to dispatchers saying his son died from sudden infant death syndrome. When authorities arrived at their apartment, they found the 4-month-0ld in a bedroom. The parents left the child and shared an adjacent bedroom with their two-year-old daughter.
As they approached the infant, first responders found Sterling in a mechanical swing. His fists were clenched, and his eyes were open wide. First responders noted the room was hot and reeked of urine. When they removed the blanket covering the baby, gnats swarmed in the air. The baby’s diaper was filled with feces and maggots were found inside.
A medical examiner performed an autopsy on the baby. At his time of death, he weighed only seven pounds, less than what he weighed at birth. The medical examiner determined Sterling died from malnutrition, dehydration, and infection.
According to testing done on the maggots found in his diaper, the medical examiner estimated he hadn’t been changed in at least two weeks.
Authorities learned that the parents kept the boy in a hot room separate from the family. Left alone and unattended, his parents left him to die in the mechanical swing.
Due to the extreme heat, flies became attracted to his soiled diaper. The flies laid eggs and the maggots formed. Sterling developed a significant skin infection from remaining in the diaper. As his skin broke down, an E-coli infection entered his bloodstream and caused his death.
Most appalling is that while the parents ignored their baby, they fed and took care of their 2-year-old daughter. The family seemingly went on with their lives and completely neglected Sterling.
Following the autopsy results, police arrested the couple on charges of first-degree murder and child endangerment. Koehn placed all the blame on Harris for the death of his son.
During his trial, he testified that he worked 70-80 hours a week as a truck driver and left the caregiving to her. He admitted he treated his dog better than his son.
In November, an Iowa jury found Koehn guilty of first-degree murder. The court sentenced him to life without parole.
When Harris’ trial began, her public defender argued she suffered from post-partum depression and self-medicated to manage her symptoms. Harris admitted to using methamphetamine and marijuana in the weeks leading up to her son’s death.
A psychiatrist that later treated Harris testified that he didn’t see anything that could have prevented her from caring for her son.
“She did make the statement to me that at the time, as she looks back, that she thought that Sterling was the reason her family was messed up,” said psychiatrist Dr. James Dennert. “She told me now she looks back on that and she realizes that was illogical.”
The prosecutor noted that Harris admitted to O’Hara that she got tired of listening to the baby crying. Harris also revealed that her daughter would become jealous if she gave the baby attention.
A babysitter that watched Sterling said that he had a diaper rash and seemed very underweight at only three months old.
Koehn made an annual salary of $45,000.00 and had full medical benefits for his children. The state argued that the couple had the resources to take care of Sterling but failed to do anything to help him. Additionally, the couple continued to care for their daughter during the baby’s short four-month life.
After a week trial, the jury deliberated for only five hours. As the clerk read the verdict, Harris stood stoically with her hands crossed below her waist. Her eyes remained fixed on the judge, and she showed no emotion while learning her fate.
The penalty for first-degree murder in Iowa is life in prison without parole.
With both of the parents behind bars for life, the couple’s remaining daughter’s custody is not known. However, a psychologist that testified for the state said the girl showed signs of psychological trauma and will likely need help recovering from the abuse she experienced by her parents.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.
Buy Katie Joy a cup of Coffee.
Individuals wishing to help Katie with her expenses can become patrons. Patrons gain exclusive access to stories, new projects, and future books.