Life In Prison For Dad Whose Maggot-Infested Newborn Died From Diaper Rash Infection

The neglected baby boy’s body, weighing less than seven pounds, was found in a sweltering apartment.

November 01, 2018
By: Aaron Rasmussen


Zachary Paul Koehn, the father who caused the death of his malnourished and dehydrated newborn son after a severe case of diaper rash turned into a raging infection and maggot infestation two summers ago, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder and child endangerment causing death.

“This is a mandatory sentence. There’s not much more that needs to be said,” noted Assistant Iowa Attorney General Denise Timmins at the December 4 sentencing. “There are no victim impact statements or anyone else to speak on behalf of the child.”

Koehn also opted not to address the court. But, during his trial, he claimed he did not change his son’s diaper because of the smell. He also insisted the baby’s mom, 21-year-old Cheyanne Renae Harris, was responsible for Sterling’s care since he had to work third shift as a truck driver.

However, Timmins countered: “He was aware of what was going on and he chose to do nothing.”

“Choosing to let your child slowly die a painful death is no less unlawful than beating your child’s head against a wall until the child dies," he added.

The trial for Harris, who pleaded not guilty to the same charges as Sterling’s dad, will begin on January 29. According to the Des Moines Register, Harris’ lawyers may try to use intoxication in her defense.


MOUNT PLEASANT, IA — A malnourished and dehydrated almost-four-month-old baby is dead, and his parents have been charged with first-degree murder and child endangerment causing death after a severe case of diaper rash turned into a raging infection and maggot infestation.

On October 30, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Coleman McAllister revealed the grim details of the case to jurors at the start of the trial for the newborn’s father, Zachary Paul Koehn, 29.

Koehn called 911 on August 30, 2017, and claimed his son had died from sudden infant death syndrome. "This was not an accident,” said McAllister. “That was a cover story concocted by this defendant to cover the awful truth.”

According to the prosecutor, the baby, Sterling Koehn, was left in a soiled diaper for anywhere from 9 to 14 days. "He died of diaper rash. That's right, diaper rash," McAllister said, explaining, "The feces that sat in that diaper ate through his skin, allowing E. coli bacteria that was in his diaper and in his stool to enter his bloodstream and cause an infection.”

The dirty diaper also attracted flies, that laid eggs that then hatched into maggots.

When nurse and county emergency medical technician Toni Friedrich arrived on the scene, she was led to a dark and sweltering bedroom, where she found Sterling’s lifeless body, weighing just under seven pounds, in a mechanical baby swing.

Sterling’s “eyes were open, and it was a blank stare,” she told the court, adding that gnats flew up when she lifted a blanket that was covering the body.

Koehn’s defense attorney, Les Blair, tried to claim the baby’s death was “a tragedy, not a crime." But McAllister pointed out that Koehn’s two-year-old daughter was found fed, clothed, and unharmed in the same apartment, and that the family had enough money available to buy food and other baby supplies.

Koehn had health insurance and made $45,000 as a truck driver for Nugent Nuggets, a company that transports chickens.

“This is not a case, the evidence will show, where you hear about a young, inexperienced parent or somebody who did not know how to care for children,” argued McAllistar, alleging Koehn confessed to regularly using methamphetamine.

“He said that Sterling was a healthy baby; there was nothing wrong with him; that when he played with him he appeared to be alert and happy,” McAllister said of Koehn’s statements after his son’s death. “It would have been obvious to anybody that Sterling was not right.”

The late infant’s mom, 21-year-old Cheyanne Harris, was hit with the same charges as Koehn. Harris’ trial has yet to be scheduled. Both parents have pleaded not guilty.

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