Virginia man indicted on six charges in toddler's death

Published: Jan. 29, 2020 at 2:36 PM EST
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A grand jury indicted 26-year-old McKenzie Hellman Tuesday on six charges in connection to the death of his girlfriend's son, Steven Meek II.

Hellman is charged with felony murder, child abuse, producing child pornography, reproducing child pornography, possession of child pornography and object sexual penetration, according to the court's website.

First responders to 430 Zinc Lane immediately began performing CPR on Meek after Hellman called 911 the night of January 11, 2019.

Officer Timothy Lusk, with the Christiansburg Police Department, was the first officer to arrive.

In Lusk's pre-testimony, he told the court the defendant said there were two children playing in a bedroom. The other child was Hellman’s biological two-year-old son. Hellman said he heard a loud thump, and found Meek on the ground, unresponsive.

Lusk also noted Meek was partially dressed, had bruising on both eyes, and had no heart rate when he first started CPR before EMT’s took over.

The first piece of evidence prosecutors presented was a seven-minute 911 call made by McKenzie Hellman.

Hellman frantically told the dispatcher in the call that his girlfriend's son was jumping on his bed, fell and wasn't responding, but was still breathing. Hellman also told the dispatcher there is a mark on the boy's forehead.

The second witness called in Hellman's pretrial hearing earlier this month was investigator Nathan Delp. Delp arrived at the residence at 10:10 PM. He said Hellman told him the kids were playing matchbox cars in the bedroom.

After Hellman heard the thump and found Meek, he carried him from the bedroom to the living room. Hellman also told Delp that he called his girlfriend, and Meek’s mother, Kayla Thomas, before calling 911. Investigators verified that statement through phone records. Those phone records also proved Hellman called Thomas at 9:05, which is 8 minutes before the 911 call was placed.

An assistant commonwealth attorney also asked Delp about the timeline of events last night. It is as follows:

1 p.m. - 2 p.m.: McKenzie Hellman drops Kayla Thomas off at her place of work, the Deli Mart, on Roanoke St, in Christiansburg. Hellman is in custody of Meek.

After 2 p.m.: Hellman picks up his son from his mother, Cheyenne Hellman

8:35 p.m.: Texts are exchanged between Thomas and Hellman. Thomas asks how Hellman is and Hellman tells Thomas that he fell asleep. Thomas also asks Hellman why Steven is the way he is and says “I know it’s not all my fault.” Hellman responds to this text with “You need to stop worrying about his stupid a**.”

Detective John Gunter was the next witness the commonwealth called to the stand. Gunter interviewed Hellman on Jan. 13, 2019, the same day Meek died from his injuries.

During that interview, Hellman tells Gunter he heard arguing between his son and Meek, and had to physically separate the boys. Hellman admitted to hitting Meek hard, in the head, and said Meek may have hit his head on the dresser in the room.

Hellman also told Gunter that when he left the boys’ bedroom, he heard Meeks sniffling.

Delp was then recalled to the stand to answer questions about a search warrant, specifically one taken out for Hellman’s cell phone.

During a search on Hellman’s phone, a photo was found of a sexual act being performed on an infant. Prosecutors introduce that photo as evidence. When that photo was found, Hellman was arrested on a child neglect charge.

When Hellman is questioned about the photo, Hellman tells Delp that he did not take the photo and that it was sent to him. Hellman confirms that the subject in the photo is Steven Meek II.

In that same interview between Hellman and Delp, Hellman tells the detective that he wanted to “explore the extent of his sexual needs.” He asked Kayla to take the photo and said that it was Kayla’s hand holding an object in the photo.

Hellman also tells Delp the request for the photo took place through a private Facebook message conversation.

While Delp was on the stand, prosecutors also asked him about a screenshot found on Kayla Thomas’ phone. Thomas, who also faces a handful of felony charges related to the alleged abuse and ultimate death of her son, also had her phone searched.

The screenshot was of messages Hellman sent to Thomas in which he asked for different videos of specific sexual acts between Meek and Thomas.

After the commonwealth had finished questioning Delp, Hellman’s attorney, Fred Kellerman, asked how many people Delp had interviewed throughout the investigation. Delp listed nearly 20 names.

The last person to testify was assistant chief medical examiner, Dr. Amy Tharp.

Tharp talked in detail about the injuries Meek had when his body was examined. They include:

22 blunt injuries to Meek’s head

13 additional injuries under his scalp

4 injuries inside his mouth

3 bruises inside his gum line and

10 injuries to his torso.

Tharp also talked about Meeks’s retinol hemorrhages in both eyes, the bleeding around his brain and how unusual it is to see bruising in multiple areas inside his mouth.

When Tharp was asked if the injuries Meek sustained could have been from falling off a bed, which was just 13 inches off the ground, Tharp responded with, “if that kind of height could kill a child, none of us would have survived childhood."

McKenzie Hellman is due back in court on February 11.