The trial for a Pennsylvania man accused of killing and raping his infant daughter during a custody visit began Monday in a Montgomery County courtroom.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the prosecution said during opening statements that 31-year-old Austin Stevens tried to cover his crimes up after his daughter, 10-month-old Zara Scruggs, became unresponsive while in his care.
“You might not want to believe it. He tried to hide it. But that’s what the evidence in this case will show,” Assistant District Attorney Brianna Ringwood said during opening statements. “This case is not about a parent who panicked. Zara is dead because of the deliberate choices that are man-made. Everything he did was deliberate and intentional.”
Stevens’ defense lawyer, Evan J. Kelly, argued that there are no witnesses to back up the accusations, adding that Stevens had no motive to murder his own daughter.
“It’s easy to hear a powerful opening statement and it’s easy to rush to judgment,” Kelly said. “Please be patient and listen to the evidence.”
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Stevens, a former assistant youth football coach for Lower Providence Warriors, was arrested following the incident on October 3, 2020.
According to Steele, Zara was at Stevens’ residence when a 911 call was placed. At around 10:40 p.m., responding officers who arrived at the home found the baby unresponsive in a “blood saturated” diaper.
First responders rushed Zara to the Einstein Medical Center in Montgomery County, where she was pronounced dead. The bloody diaper was handed over to the authorities, who later said the baby showed signs of sexual assault.
Stevens had a joint custody agreement with Zara’s mother and he had recently moved to his own home off of the 3400 block of Germantown Pike in Lower Providence Township. Zara was alone with Stevens during his visitation time when the incident occurred, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
After the baby’s death, investigators obtained a search warrant for Stevens’ phone, which allegedly had search queries that included:
- What if you don’t hear baby heart or beat
- My baby isn’t breathing
- How do you know if a baby is dead
- If baby stops breathing
Zara’s autopsy indicated she was not only sexually assaulted, but had blunt force trauma to her head.
READ MORE: No heat or hot water in apartment while father rapes 10-month-old baby girl, then flirts on Instagram as she dies
“The Coroner’s Office’s ruling that this 10-month-old baby’s death was homicide confirms what our investigation showed: Zara died a deeply disturbing death at the hands of her father. Stevens will have to answer to murder charges,” Steele previously said, according to CBS Philly.
“He had sole custody of the baby during this period of time.”
During an interview between investigators and Stevens, the suspect reportedly claimed that he left his daughter briefly in the bathtub while he went to the kitchen. Stevens allegedly said he “heard a bang” and went back to the bathroom and noticed his daughter had bumped her head.
Stevens said he removed Zara from the bathtub, placed a towel around her, and while placing her on a bed, noticed that her head fell back. He said he dialed 911 and immediately started CPR. Detectives, however, said that Stevens’ Internet searches occurred before he called 911.
Stevens later admitted he panicked and made the Internet searches, according to officials. He also admitted to chatting with two females on Instagram and never mentioning anything about Zara.
“The messaging content did not discuss any issues regarding Zara or her need for emergency care,” the arrest affidavit read.
Stevens was subsequently arrested and charged with rape of a child, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, aggravated assault, and endangering the welfare of a child. Murder charges were later added after the baby’s death.
The trial continues and should last several days. Check back for updates.
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[Feature Photo: Zara Scruggs/GoFundMe]