CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Keegan Metz's injuries were "beyond repair" on Feb. 7, 2009, when emergency medical workers responded to the toddler's home at 100 Ballygar Drive.
Robert Nash, assistant district attorney, said 23-month-old Keegan was covered in bruises "virtually from head to toe."
The trial of his mother, Caitlyn Metz, 27, and his stepfather, Joshua Starner, 26, a former Fort Campbell soldier, began Tuesday morning with opening statements and witness testimony in Judge Mike R. Jones' court.
Both are charged with two counts of felony first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated child abuse/neglect and aggravated child rape in the child's death.
Keegan had a critical brain injury, his pupils were blown and he had bruises and scratches on his ears, his neck and the bridge of his nose, Nash said in opening statements.
His buttocks were covered in red welts, and he had scratch marks on his genitals.
He was found unconscious and was only able to take six breaths a minute before he was put on life support and died from his injuries.
The only explanations given for the injuries were statements by his parents. Starner told law enforcement Keegan fell in the bathtub. Both Metz and Starner said Keegan fell out of a Jeep when they went mudding.
Nash said those explanations didn't make sense and didn't explain the non-accidental injuries. He said pictures would show the jury how horrific the injuries were.
"No one admitted to the injuries Keegan Metz sustained," Nash said. "Both parents admitted the morning consisted of Keegan whining, crying, not minding them and being placed in time out and numerous spankings of this child. There was nothing but abuse of this child because he wasn't minding as a 23-month-old, and he was whining. You will discover why.
"The proof will show – the statements, the injuries – that this began early that day, and the attempt to put this off on some accident by both these parents, this proof will not support that story."
Metz has maintained her innocence and said she left her son with Starner at their apartment for two hours while she was grocery shopping at the Fort Campbell Commissary. Keegan was in good health and doing well when she left, she said, but when she returne
d, Keegan was naked, face down and unresponsive in his bed.
The jury heard testimony from law enforcement agents, doctors and public service workers who interacted with Metz and Starner on Feb.7, 2009.
Caitlyn Metz wept throughout testimony about her son's death, removing her glasses and wiping her face with Kleenex. Starner looked down through most of the testimony and did not seem to show any emotion.
A bad stepfather
Edward Dewerff, Metz's attorney, said Metz was innocent and loved her son dearly. She told the truth about what happened, and it was clear who killed Keegan, he said.
"Joshua Starner beat and killed Keegan Metz. He snapped. Mr. Starner snapped at some point when Ms. Metz went to the store."
Dewerff said Metz fed her son that morning, and her behavior showed a loving mother, not an abusive one. It took the state three years to form a theory that involved Metz's alleged involvement. Dewerff said she wasn't involved.
"Caitlyn loved Keegan. She probably made a bad choice in marrying Joshua Starner," Dewerff said. "Mr. Starner was not a good stepdad. He'd spank Keegan and whip him with things. ... She didn't kill that baby. She loved that baby. She made a crappy, crappy choice in marrying Joshua Starner."
Sheri Phillips, Starner's attorney, pointed the blame at Metz and said her actions following her child's death showed her guilt.
Metz cried during the opening statements, and Phillips called attention to her.
"She's crying now," Phillips said. When her son was dying, "she was emotionless, she was concerned about everything going on besides her son."
Phillips said phone records would show Metz called Starner every minute on the minute when she was out shopping.
"She was expecting him to say something was wrong with Keegan. She knew something was wrong, and she needed to place the blame on Joshua Starner."
Phillips said Starner was crying and emotional the morning Keegan was taken to the hospital.
Medical proof would show the injuries could have happened up to 12 hours before police were called, and Phillips said it was Metz who beat her son to death and tried to make it look like it was Starner.
The following are highlights from state witnesses about statements Metz and Starner made after Keegan was hospitalized.
• Jeffrey Bates, a Montgomery County EMS worker, was the first responder and arrived at the apartment to see Metz and Starner outside. Metz was holding a naked, listless Keegan, who was covered with a blanket. Starner was visibly upset.
"He was crying , dropping to his knees, saying things like, 'Save Keegan,'" Bates said.
Metz told Bates she went to the store and returned to find Keegan in the state he was in.
"What became unusual to me was the idea the child had sustained a fall or small event that caused such injuries."
• Miranda Parker, a child protective services worker, testified she took several pictures of Keegan at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.
Metz behaved unusually when she interviewed her at the hospital, Parker said.
"She said she got up, and (Keegan) got up, and she fed him cereal. He was potty training, so he went to the restroom and he was whining," Parker said. "He was spanked several times before she left to go to the grocery store."
Metz told her she'd spanked him that morning and four days prior. She also told her about the mudding accident.
What struck Parker as unusual was Metz's demeanor and that it wasn't how parents usually act when their children are severely injured.
"She wasn't crying or upset and was texting on the phone during our interview," Parker said.
When told Keegan would have to go into CPS custody, Metz allegedly said, "Great. That's another thing I have to worry about."
While on the phone with Keegan's biological father, she allegedly spoke about getting more child support, and Parker said she made snide comments during the interview. She never asked about her son or to see him, Parker said.
• Brandi Batson, a former nurse at Gateway Medical Center, said Metz was in the hospital room with Keegan at Gateway. Batson said Metz was 15 feet away and asked no questions about Keegan.
"I asked her, 'Where did all these marks come from? What is this redness on his bottom?' She shrugged her shoulders and looked away," Batson said.
• Detective Patrick Seay of the Clarksville Police Department testified he was a first responder and interacted with Starner.
"It took a long time for him to calm down," Seay said. "He was very upset and crying. After a long while, he told me Caitlyn (Metz) had gone to the Commissary on post. He was with the child in the process of giving the child a bath. He left the room for a minute and a half to get clothes and a towel for the child.
"When he returned, the child was coming out of the water. He said he seemed fine. He stayed with the child for 20 minutes, and when he went to sleep, Mr. Starner took a shower and took a nap himself."
Dr. Adele Lewis, medical examiner, performed Keegan's autopsy on Feb. 10 and said Keegan died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries. She ruled his death a homicide.
Lewis said the injuries that proved fatal were injuries to his head. A photo of Keegan with purple and blue bruises to his forehead, eyes and nose was shown to the jury.
"He had injuries to his brain, swelling to his brain and bleeding behind his eyes," Lewis said. "It takes a significant amount of force. Maybe a major car wreck or a two or three story fall (to cause an injury like that). ...I can say a child who sustains injuries this severe to their head would immediately become symptomatic in some way. A normal person would know there's something wrong. He would become unconscious, have seizures or have a change in his breathing pattern almost right away."
Lewis said the three distinct bumps on his forehead were consistent with him being punched in the head.
Keegan had many hemorrhages in his eyeballs. Lewis said it is usually caused by acceleration or deceleration consistent with a child being shaken or impacted. He had injury to his neck consistent with being strangled or choked, and his finger was bruised. Lewis said it could have been from him shielding himself from being struck.
Three bruise marks on the side of his face were consistent with slap marks. His ear was swollen, red and bruised.
His buttocks were covered in innumerable red bruises.
Dr. Thomas Abromo also testified he diagnosed Keegan with physical and sexual abuse because of injuries to his genitals when he arrived at Vanderbilt Children's hospital.
Lewis said after examining his skin under a microscope, she determined the bruises were "fresh."
"All of these injuries could've been inflicted at or around the same time," Lewis said.
Court will resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and the state will continue to call witnesses. It is expected the state will conclude it's proof Wednesday.