Suspect in court for toddler’s death that shocked public


By Marty Gordon

Charges against a 26-year-old Christiansburg man in the death of a 2-year-old are now headed to a Montgomery County grand jury. McKenzie K. Hellman was back in court Friday, and some of the details in the case were finally made public.

The incident grabbed the headlines this past year and will continue to be one of the top news stories in 2020. Charges have been filed against Hellman and the child’s mother, Kayla Nicole Thomas, who was Hellman’s girlfriend at the time.  The toddler, Steven Dale Meek, died last January from injuries he suffered.

In court this past week, investigators described images found on Hellman’s phone that showed the toddler being sexually abused with a sex toy.

Hellman is charged with murder, child abuse, possessing child pornography, accessory to inanimate penetration of a child, and accessory before the fact to producing child pornography. Thomas faces similar charges along with forcible sodomy, child abuse and inanimate sexual penetration with an object.

In one of the pictures from Hellman’s phone, a woman identified later as Thomas was shown abusing the toddler with a sex toy. During an interview, Hellman said he asked the child’s mother to send the picture because he was exploring his own (Hellman) sexuality.  The couple were in separate rooms of the residence when the incident took place.

Initially, Hellman told Christiansburg police Meek had fallen off a bed at the Zinc Lane mobile home the couple shared.

Dr. Amy Tharp, a medical examiner, told the court there were at least 22 separate blunt force injuries to the boy’s head with as many as 13 bruises on the underside of the scalp. In addition, the child had four bruises to his mouth.

Tharp said the impact to the child’s head caused plates in his head to pop back open. She testified the injuries simply were not consistent to what Hellman described.

The case is now headed to a March grand jury.