Three-month-old Steven Roy James was not killed by his father but was kidnapped and murdered by drug dealers angry about unpaid debts, attorneys defending the deceased child's father contend.
A long list of character witnesses completed testifying Thursday on behalf of Steven Ray James, accused of killing his son 2 1/2 years ago, wrapping the boy's body in a bundle tied with an electrical cord, weighing the bundle down with five rocks and tossing the body into a river.Friends of James described him as a "proud papa."
The doctor who assisted James and his girlfriend, Victoria DeLeon, during the months before their boy was born, recorded in his books, "I have seldom seen a father so thrilled about a coming baby."
And family members praised James' loving care of his infant son. In contrast to the previous testimony by police officers calling James' reaction to the baby's disappearance as "totally cold and unemotional," James' brother testified his brother was devastated by his son's disappearance.
"He cried all the time. He felt it was his fault for leaving the child in the car and he said he would do anything to get his child back," his brother testified.
Recalling the day James phoned him to report the kidnapping, James' father told jurors, "He was so darn torn up it was hard for him to tell me about it. There were sure a lot of tears shed."
James' father testified that even after the baby's body was found, James' relationship with DeLeon was affectionate.
The defendant had reported his son missing on Aug. 26, 1986, telling police the child was kidnapped from his car while he shopped at a Logan drugstore. The child's body was found in a marsh near Bear River Oct. 11, 1986.
In addition to portraying James as an unusually devoted father, defense witnesses suggested that James has been framed for a murder committed by drug dealers because James owed money for drugs.
James testified he owed DeLeon's brother-in-law, Manlio Tepeyec, $6,500 for cocaine. While James told jurors that Tepeyac was in jail serving a drug-related sentence in August 1986 when the child was kidnapped, he suggested Tepeyac's associates could have killed the baby.
Taking the witness stand, Tepeyac denied he had anything to do with the baby's murder - and did not know anyone who could have been involved in the crime.
Condemning police for focusing on him too early in the investigation and ignoring other leads, James also told jurors that someone had broken into his home the night of Aug. 26, 1986. The screen on a window had been taken off and garden plants outside the window damaged. He testified that someone could have broken into the home while he and Victoria were away and taken a mattress cover from the home that was found wrapped around the child's body.
In cross examination, prosecutor James Jenkins criticized James for implying a stranger broke in. He said James learned during a December preliminary hearing that a police officer had entered through the window because the door was locked.
However, James maintained his alibi, saying the officer had entered the home earlier that day.
The case was expected to go to the jury for deliberation Thursday afternoon.