MOUNT PLEASANT — A former Alta Vista man was found guilty Tuesday of the 2017 neglect and murder of his infant son, who was discovered dead in a swing seat in a backroom of the man’s apartment.
It took a Henry County jury of seven women and five men less than an hour of deliberations to convict Zachary Paul Koehn, 29, of first-degree murder and child endangerment causing death. Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole, and sentencing will be at a later date.
Koehn showed little emotion when the verdict was read.
Assistant Attorney General Denise Timmins, who prosecuted the case with Coleman McAllister, said jurors did the right thing.
“We clearly appreciate the jury’s time. It was an extremely difficult case for anybody to observe,” Timmins said.
Defense attorney Steven Drahozal, who represented Koehn with the help of Les Blair III, declined to comment.
Although it was a Chickasaw County case, Koehn’s was moved to the Henry County Courthouse in Mount Pleasant on a change of venue.
A trial for Koehn’s girlfriend and mother of the child, 21-year-old Chayenne Harris, is pending. A judge has granted a venue change for her trial also.
Prosecutors said Koehn was given a blessing in May 2017 when his son, Sterling, was born. But within four months, Koehn let his blessing die painfully from malnutrition, dehydration and infection, Timmins said.
Koehn’s attorney asked jurors to find him not guilty, saying he had been working to provide for his family and hadn’t noticed that Harris may have suffered from depression, which kept her from caring for the baby.
Authorities were called to the apartment Aug. 30, 2017, and found 4-month-old Sterling dead in a swing seat in a stuffy room. Medics reported smelling urine and feces, and insects in the diaper showed it hadn’t been changed for more than a week.
Timmins argued that each time Koehn came home and didn’t care for Sterling constituted a separate act of neglect.
“He let Sterling rot in that room. He left him there to die,” she said.
Timmins said she couldn’t explain why Sterling was allowed to die, but she said possibilities could be that Koehn didn’t want the baby or that he suspected the baby wasn’t his. Although it was later confirmed that Koehn was the biological father, relatives said he had told them he wasn’t sure because Sterling had a lighter complexion.
The defense said Harris had been Sterling’s primary caregiver and didn’t work outside the home. Koehn took the stand in his own defense last week and told jurors he trusted the wrong person to care for his son.
Timmins pointed out that Koehn, who she said used $140 to $280 per week worth of methamphetamine, had been supplying Harris with meth as well.
“He trusted her, yet he’s the one who gave her drugs,” she said.
Harris was charged in the case, but she wasn’t tried with Koehn. Her defense attorney asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination during an earlier hearing after Koehn’s attorneys subpoenaed her.