The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 5, 2012

Lamar shaken-baby case ends in manslaughter conviction

By Jeff Lehr
Globe Staff Writer

LAMAR, Mo. — Jonathan Rector would not look Randi Stevens in the eye at his sentencing hearing Monday in Barton County Circuit Court.

The 22-year-old woman brought a picture of her infant son, Kaiden, to court in hopes of forcing her ex-boyfriend to look at it and acknowledge the hurt he had inflicted on all of them in a moment of rage 10 months ago.

The closure she sought in court never came.

Rector’s attorney informed the court that he had advised his client to avert his eyes from hers at the hearing, she said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“That just infuriated the heck out of me,” Stevens said. “That he couldn’t even look at the people he hurt.”

Rector, 28, of Lamar, pleaded guilty at the hearing to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter in a plea bargain limiting his prison sentence in the shaken-baby death of 4-month-old Kaiden Stevens to 15 years. Rector had been facing a charge of second-degree murder in the case.

‘GOOD WITH KIDS’

Kaiden was a happy baby throughout his brief life, with lovely blue eyes and “an ear-to-ear smile,” his mother said. A little bit ornery but a pleasure to her and his grandparents, she said.

He was her third child by prior relationships. She’d come to know Rector while carrying Kaiden. They dated about five months and moved in together about a month before the child’s death.

Stevens said she and her family remain stunned by what happened.

Rector, who has two children of his own by another woman, seemed to her and her family to be “really good with kids.” She said he took to her children right away and was a good stepfather in the short time they were together.

“He loved being around that many kids,” Stevens said. “He never got mad at them. He loved it.”

He was not without problems, she said. Rector was going through a divorce, and he was concerned with how custody matters with his own two children would turn out.

But he was a devout Christian, she said. He would take her and her children to church each Sunday. He was involved in Wednesday night church services. He did not do drugs. He seldom drank alcohol, she said.

She just never saw it coming, she said.

BLUE, NOT BREATHING

Stevens often left her children at her parents when she went to work the second shift at the Dollar General store in Lamar. Rector worked at his parents’ dairy farm off and on.

The day in question, Feb. 17, was just the second time that he baby-sat her children while she was at work. That day her parents had work and other obligations going on, and Rector offered to stay home and watch the kids.

Court records state that at 6:01 p.m., Rector called 911 and reported that Kaiden was not breathing. Emergency medical technicians and police found the child unresponsive and in respiratory distress when they arrived at the couple’s apartment on West Eighth Street in Lamar.

Kaiden was taken initially to Barton County Memorial Hospital and flown by medical helicopter a few hours later that night to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Rector came running into the Dollar General store about 6:14 p.m. with one of her other children in his arms, Stevens said.

“Kaiden’s not breathing,” he told her.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“He’s blue and not breathing,” he told her.

Rector told her that he and Kaiden had been taking naps. He woke up and saw Kaiden was blue in the face in his crib and appeared to be choking. He told her that he picked him up, patted his back and shook him a little before sticking his fingers down his throat in an effort to clear his airway of whatever he was choking on. A little coagulated milk came out, he told her.

She asked him how hard he had shaken him and he told her not hard, she said. Not hard at all.

CHANGING STORIES

“That was his first story,” Stevens said.

The next day at the hospital in Kansas City, Rector’s story changed, she said. He added to his account that when he noticed Kaiden wasn’t breathing, he had run down some stairs with him and had fallen.

Stevens said she asked him why he hadn’t mentioned that to her previously and his answer that he had just forgotten didn’t sit well with her. That was when she first began to wonder if he’d had something to do with Kaiden’s condition, she said.

The hospital in Kansas City soon diagnosed Kaiden as a shaken baby, and hospital staff began treating both Rector and Stevens as possible suspects, even though she told them she had been at work and didn’t know what had happened to her baby, she said.

“It hurt,” she said. “But I knew I didn’t do anything and that I would be cleared.”

She said her only real concern at that point was with Kaiden.

The following day was a Sunday and Rector was asked by investigators to submit to a polygraph examination. The probable-cause affidavit states that he agreed and was taken to Missouri State Highway Patrol troop headquarters in Springfield for the exam.

According to the affidavit, the exam had to be aborted when Rector declined to answer a series of irrelevant control questions untruthfully to establish a baseline for his responses to the examiner’s relevant questions.

UNHAPPY WITH DEAL

In a follow-up interview with Lamar police Chief Ron Hager, however, Rector admitted that he had shaken Kaiden “in a fit of rage,” the affidavit states.

“He thought the rage was connected to the stress that he was experiencing at the time,” Hager’s affidavit states. “He said that after he shook Kaiden, he became limp and he attempted CPR.”

Kaiden died at the hospital in Kansas City three days after his injury and the day after Rector confessed to having shaken him.

His mother told the Globe that she is not pleased with the plea bargain Rector obtained. She said she has been told that he could get out of prison in seven or eight years.

“People get more time for doing drugs,” she said.

But she said the Barton County prosecutor did tell her that the plea offer was made because a conviction would not be a sure thing if the case proceeded to trial.

Prosecutor Steven Kaderly has been in court the past two days and could not be reached for comment by telephone.

Memorial walk

Randi Stevens said a memorial walk is being planned in April for her son, Kaiden Stevens, who died of shaken-baby injuries. She said the date and location of the walk will be announced on a Facebook page created in memory of Kaiden titled “Justice for Kaiden Michael Parker Stevens.”