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Columbia Missourian

Autopsy shows 8-month-old died from head trauma, shaking

By Mary Ryan
March 3, 2014 | 6:47 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Eight-month-old Finley Steele of Columbia died from shaking and massive, blunt trauma to the head, according to a probable cause statement filed Saturday in the 13th Circuit Court.

Emergency services were called at 2:50 a.m. Friday to 504 Woodridge Drive, the home where Anna E. Steele, Finley's mother, was living with her boyfriend, Cody M. Baker. The infant was unresponsive and was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Evidence suggested she had been shaken.

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According to the probable cause statement, the autopsy showed the child sustained blunt trauma and investigating officers searching the home found items soiled with fresh blood.

The statement gives the following account:

In an interview with police, Baker, 31, said he was awakened about 2:30 a.m. Friday by Finley's coughing and found her covered with sweat in her portable crib. Baker said he changed the girl's clothes and put her between him and Steele in their bed and went back to sleep.

When he woke up again, he said he noticed Finley was no longer breathing. He told Steele to call 911.

The pair have been dating since December, and Baker moved into the basement of the house, where Steele, 24, was living with her parents, in January. According to the Boone County Assessor's website, the home is owned by James and Tracey Steele.

Tracey Steele, Anna's mother, told police that a week or two before her granddaughter's death she noticed a bruise across the baby's face. When she confronted her daughter and Baker about the bruise, they told her that Finley had fallen against the railing of her crib. Tracey Steele also said she confronted the pair about placing blankets over Finley's face and head while putting her to sleep.

Anna Steele told police that she noticed a "pattern of injuries and behavior" in her daughter since Baker moved in that made her suspicious he might be hurting the baby. She said she didn't believe Baker's story about how Finley was bruised, but she was afraid of confronting him.

Anna Steele told investigators that she also didn't agree with Baker laying blankets over Finley's face and head but allowed it to happen.

Abusive head trauma, known as shaken baby syndrome, results from shaking an infant by the shoulders, arms or legs, which causes whiplash and traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because a baby's neck is not strong enough to support its head, the baby cannot hold itself steady while being shaken, according to the Missouri Children's Trust Fund.

Ten children died of abusive head trauma in 2010, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.

Baker was arrested Friday night on suspicion of second-degree murder; Steele was arrested early Saturday morning on the same charge. Early Monday afternoon, both were in custody at Boone County Jail. Baker's bail is $2 million; Steele's is $1 million.

According to Missouri court records, Baker has been arrested in Boone County at least six times since 1999 on charges that include drunken driving and misdemeanor marijuana possession. He pleaded guilty in all of the cases. 

Baker also was arrested in December and charged with resisting arrest; he has a court date on April 9 in that case.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.