An Iowa couple has been charged in the death of their 4-month-old son, who was found covered in maggots in a baby swing inside their apartment, police say.
Zachary Koehn and Cheyanne Harris of Alta Vista, Iowa, were arrested October 25 on charges of first-degree murder and felony child endangerment causing death. When the boy’s body was found August 30, Sterling Daniel Koehn weighed less than seven pounds, had maggots in different stages of development throughout his body, and was in a diaper that authorities say hadn’t been changed in a week, according to court documents. Authorities brought the charges against Koehn and Harris after a lengthy investigation.
The couple’s bond was set at $100,000 cash only and a conviction of first-degree murder charges comes with a mandatory life sentence in Iowa.
A criminal compliant stated that “The facts of the this case go far beyond neglect and show circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life.”
Heavy spoke with an acquaintance of Koehn who said meth had destroyed the man, and the couple’s relationship was “on and off.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Study of the Maggots Found on the Baby’s Body Showed He Had Been in the Same Seat for More Than a Week
Police described the baby’s tragic death in the criminal complaint. The investigation took over two months and “the parents’ account of the death of the child was inconsistent with the findings of the autopsy and investigation.” The complaint states:
On arrival it was confirmed that Sterling Daniel Koehn had died. The infant was found seated in a powered swing/seat in a bedroom separate from where Zachary,
Cheyanne and their older child slept. Sterling Daniel Koehn was born May 1, 2017. In subsequent statements made by Zachary Koehn and Cheyanne Harris they claimed Sterling had actually been checked on last the previous day (August 29, 2017).
On the morning of August 31, 2017, the body of Sterling Daniel Koehn underwent an autopsy at the State Medical Examiner’s office in Ankeny, Iowa. At the time of the autopsy it was learned that the infant had died at a weight of 3152 grams (under seven pounds) and was 35.5 centimeters in length (14 inches). Both these measurements placed the infant at well below the 5th percentile in size and weight.
Sterling’s body was found to have maggots in various stages of development in his clothing and on his skin. Identification and study of the maggots found on the body was conducted by a Forensic Entomologist and used to provide a time line. The study of the maggots growth and development indicated that the child had not had a diaper change, bath, or been removed from the seat in over a week.
Investigation of the incident led to the discovery that the parents’ account of the death of the child was inconsistent with the findings of the autopsy and investigation. The State Medical Examiner has ruled the death a Homicide. The cause of death was a failure to provide critical care. The facts of this case go far beyond neglect and show circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life.
According to The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, “Deputies said they were assisted Wednesday in locating the couple by deputies in Mitchell and Fayette counties, as well as the Charles City Police Department.”
2. Koehn Was Described As a ‘Nice, Mellow Person Who Came From a Good Family, Before Meth’
Amanda Reynolds, who has known Koehn, 28, for the last 10 years, told Heavy that “Zach was a very nice, mellow human being. He came from a good family.” She added that he was addicted to methamphetamine but said when they first met he was not on the drug. Reynolds believes this is what led to the tragedy, and said she “knew he killed Sterling” when she heard the news, because she was aware of his current circumstances.
“The last I talked to him was when Sterling was born,” Reynolds said. “He mentioned he wasn’t sure if he was the dad.”
A screenshot was provided to Heavy and it is thought that Harris gave birth to Sterling at home:
Reynolds told Heavy that Koehn was together with Harris, 20, before the woman turned 18 but said the relationship was “on and off” the entire time.
“I knew they killed him,” Reynolds continued. “It hurt because I can see all their Facebook activity, and they wanted sympathy from everyone. It’s heartbreaking…I have two kids and I can’t imagine doing this to them. Had I known, I would have taken Sterling in a heartbeat.”
3. The Couple Claimed to Be ‘Loving the Clean Life’
On October 3, Koehn posted the above photo which stated the couple was “loving the clean life,” and showed off “new tattoos” less than two months after the infant had died.
“We have joined you,” one person commented.
“We’re proud of you guys it really is so much better hard to stay awake at times but we get past it,” Koehn replied.
Reynolds described Harris as unstable. “I’d seen her before, but never talked to her. She seemed kinda troubled. Torn between her family and Zach,” she told Heavy.
4. Koehn Regularly Posted to Facebook Following His Son’s Death, & Another Child Was Removed From the Home
During the period between Sterling’s death in August and up until October 24, Koehn was an active contributor to Facebook and posted many things publicly. While he sporadically mentioned the death and funeral of Sterling, it seems he was usually posting memes and random status updates such as going out to dinner.
On October 1, Koehn published a meme to his page with a photo of pit bulls, captioned “To some I’ll always be the bad guy.” Ashley Louise Gracia replied:
YOU ARE A BAD GUY….who does that to a beautiful baby? And to think you had another one in that house the whole time. Do you get what trauma you put your baby daughter through – and all the while your dead baby son in a swing? You sick twisted f**k.
On September 21 Koehn spoke about a daughter who was reportedly taken away from the couple. “Got to see my little girl we get to see her again for a little bit tomorrow,” he posted with photos of himself alongside a young child.
“Mommy gets to see her Tuesday and then they decide when we get have regular visits and how often 😧,” he wrote in the comments.
Harris appeared to have commented using Koehn’s page on the same photo. “They took her the night we lost Sterling never got to say goodbye,” the text reads. “Last she saw me I was bawling my eyes out~chey.”
5. This Wasn’t Koehn’s First Run-In With the Law
According to court records, Koehn was arrested in 2016 on second-degree theft charges of bypassing a water meter to his mobile home in Riceville.
The records show that the charge was dropped after he agreed to pay the city $1,600 in court costs and restitution.
According to The Courier, “the Mitchell County Attorney’s Office asked the court to find him in contempt because he hadn’t been making payments on the agreement.”