Details emerge after couple charged with murder in death of 4-month-old

When sheriff’s deputies and first responders arrived at an Alta Vista apartment on the afternoon of Aug. 30, they found a scene of unspeakable horror, according to documents filed in Chickasaw County District Court.

What they found — the deceased body of almost 4-month-old Sterling Koehn — and what they learned during an almost two-month investigation led to the arrest of Zachary P. Koehn, 28, and Cheyanne R. Harris, 20, on charges of murder in the first degree, a Class A felony, and child endangerment causing death, a Class B felony.

The affidavits and complaints filed paint a disturbing picture of what authorities found after they were called to the Hilltop Avenue Apartments on 304 E. Main St. in Alta Vista just before 1 p.m. that day.

Zachary Koehn made the 911 call to the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office and requested an ambulance be sent to his residence for his son.

Koehn told the dispatcher that at 9 a.m., his girlfriend and the mother of Sterling, had fed the baby and “he was fine.” Koehn also said Harris had checked on the baby sometime between 11 and 11:30 a.m. and discovered he had died.

Deputies and first responders rushed to the portent where Koehn, Harris and their two young children resided, and when they arrived, they confirmed that Sterling had died.

The affidavit states that Sterling was “found seated in a powered swing/seat in a bedroom separate from where Zachary, Cheyanne and their other child slept.”

In interviews with the parents, according to the court documents, they subsequently claimed the baby had actually last been checked on the previous day [Aug. 29].

Authorities requested an autopsy be done by the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Ankeny, and the medical examiner found that Sterling, who was born on May 1, weighed less than seven pounds and that his body was found to have maggots in various stages of development in his clothing and on his skin.

A forensic entomologist, according to the documents, “indicated that the child had not had a diaper change, bath or been removed from the seat in over a week.”

“The cause of death was a failure to provide critical care,” Chickasaw County Chief Deputy Reed Palo wrote in the complaint. “The facts of this case go far beyond neglect and show circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life.”

Authorites sought and were granted arrest warrants, and they were issued on Wednesday.

That same day, Harris was arrested in Riceville by the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office and Koehn was picked up by the Charles City Police Department.

Both were first taken to the Chickasaw County Jail, although Harris was later transferred to the Bremer County Jail in Waverly. They are being held on a $100,000 cash-only bond.

Palo on Thursday said he couldn’t comment on the case.

According to Koehn’s Facebook page, the couple’s other child was taken away from the parents the day Sterling died, although it appears from the social media site that they were allowed supervised visits.

— For more on this story, see the Oct. 31 Tribune

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