Kathleen Steele appeared on the screen in the courtroom and slowly walked to a plastic chair before she sat down in her orange jumpsuit. She fidgeted, tucking her hair behind her ears and scratching her face. Every so often, she would look over her shoulders or from side to side.
The 62-year-old said only two words in her first court appearance following her arrest for aggravated manslaughter of a child. Judge Anthony Rondolino asked if she understood the charge that came after her 6-year-old son pummeled her newborn baby to death after she left them locked in a car Monday.
"Yes, sir," she said in a small voice with hands folded in front of her.
Steele's attorney Robert Love spoke on her behalf as she watched from the Pinellas County Jail. Love said they would not contest the state's order for Steele to have no contact with children 18 years old of younger.
Steele was arrested at Love's office Thursday, minutes before Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri detailed how her son slammed and pummeled her 13-day-old baby.
If Steele posts bail, Rondolino said she will virtually be on house arrest. She'll be allowed to go back to work, but she will be monitored via GPS by the Sheriff's Office. Rondolino said he would not be reducing Steele's $100,000 bail.
Love would not say if he had worked with Steele previously or how long he had known her. When he spoke with her, Love said, the mother was "certainly devastated," but he thought she was "a pretty good lady."
— Hannah Jeffrey
In 2009 during her first pregnancy, Kathleen Steele appeared on the show I'm Pregnant And... 55 Years Old. At 30 weeks, she was already showing.
"I don't think it's up to anyone to judge us for what we choose to do with our lives," she told the cameras.
The show featured Steele and her husband, Philip, as they strolled along the beach outside their waterfront home. Steele, according to the show, had a "successful career at a financial services firm."
After 12 years of failed artificial insemination treatments, the couple tried for a baby one more time in January 2009. It worked.
Kathleen Steele is set to make her first appearance in court Friday afternoon, a day after she was jailed on aggravated manslaughter charges in what investigators say was the beating death of her 13-day-old daughter by her 6-year-old son.
Steele was booked into jail Thursday evening, a few hours after Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri called the case “one of the worst things” he had ever seen. Investigators said Steele left her children in a locked car while she went into a phone repair store in St. Petersburg on Monday.
The 6-year-old later told deputies he tried to calm the baby when she became fussy.
Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Woolf called the tragedy an unprecedented situation. She said Pinellas County Schools will work with DCF and the Sheriff's Office as they create a plan on what to do regarding the 6-year-old's education. The child, she wanted to reassure parents, will not be returning to Lakewood Elementary.
Kathleen Steele works as a broker at Raymond James & Associates, records show.
In a statement, the company said Friday: "Raymond James expresses its deepest condolences to the family. Due to the criminal nature of this investigation, we cannot comment further."
— Zachary T. Sampson
Kathleen Steele was 61 when, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri, she became pregnant for the third time through artificial insemination with the help of a New York fertility clinic. This is one of the issues we are pursuing today.
She used her dead husband’s sperm, which had been frozen and stored for the procedure.
Jay Wolfson, USF professor of public health, medicine and pharmacy, and associate vice president for health law and policy, said it is not the doctor’s responsibility to decide if a woman of advanced years should become a mother again.
“The primary concern is going to be the physical capacity of the mother to withstand a pregnancy and deliver a healthy child,” Wolfson said. “The healthy child is really the bottom line.”
But if doctor has concerns about the mental stability of a mother, they have the option of declining to carry out the procedure, Wolfson said.
“Any physician except in an emergency room can say, ‘I choose not to participate in your discretionary healthcare procedure,’” he said.
We'll have more as our reporting continues.
— Chris O'Donnell
Speaking about the legal challenges of the criminal case against Kathleen Steele, Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen said her state of mind would be the foundation for a defense.
"It all comes down to her mental state," Cohen said. "That's where I would start."
A defense attorney would have to try to understand whether Steele was capable of appreciating the consequences of her actions, Cohen said. It is one thing to have someone who doesn't appreciate the seriousness of their conduct, it is another thing if that person does not care, he said.
From a civil perspective, Cohen said he would want to know about anyone who allowed her to have and care for children with an impaired state of mind.
"I would also look at the people who permitted her to have custody of those kids with that state of mind," Cohen said. He said that could include friends and relatives who knew her well.
"They may have some culpability, too."
Cohen said he would also want to know more about who conducted the artificial insemination procedure that allowed Steele to have children at an advanced age.
"I'd take a look at the company that did that or the doctor who did that," he said. "What are you doing artificially inseminating a woman who's 62 years old? Before you artificially inseminate her, you have to know her state of mind."
We'll have more on this story as it continues to unfold.
— Dan Sullivan
In the reality show in which Kathleen Steele appeared, I'm Pregnant and 55, Steele’s obstetrician/gynecologist is identified as Karen Raimer, a physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and who has served as examiner for the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The hospital's spokeswoman Lisa Brock said the hospital could not comment on private patient matters.
“Obviously this is a very tragic story,” Brock said. “Because it is a police matter, it’s not appropriate for us to speak about it. We would not want to thwart any law enforcement operation.”
Luke Ligrani said he's lived next to the Steele's for about 10 years. Kathleen Steele, he said, was often around her children, "just being a mom."
Sometimes, Ligrani said, he saw Steele playing with her children in the front yard.
Steele and her husband may have “made choices later in life that don’t make sense to most people ... as far as having those kids at that age," but Ligrani said he never saw her act harshly toward her children.
“She wasn’t all that the cops were saying I’ll tell you that," he said. "She was not an abusive mother.”
Ligrani declined to talk about Steele's children.
“There’s no doubt in my mind she loved those kids," he said.
— Zachary T. Sampson
A few weeks before her third child was born, a fire broke out in Kathleen Steele's home at 476 Bath Club Blvd. N in North Redington Beach. Steele later told deputies she was taking a nap when one of her two sons woke her up and said he had heard strange noises.
When she went downstairs, according to a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office report, Steele discovered a fire.
The blaze began in a dryer in the laundry room about 4:30 p.m. July 7, but the cause was unknown, according to a report from the Madeira Beach Fire Department. It spread to the kitchen and garage, and sent smoke pouring through the house. The blaze caused an estimated $150,000 in damage.
Steele was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg that evening for possible smoke inhalation, firefighters wrote in the report. She was in her third trimester at the time.
The fire forced the family from the home, and they stayed briefly at a hotel in Treasure Island before moving into a rental property on Bath Club Boulevard.
— Zachary T. Sampson
On Monday morning after a visit to the baby's pediatrician, Kathleen Steele's 6-year-old son dropped her phone and cracked the screen.
She went to CPR Cell Phone Repair on 66th Street N to fix her phone. While the shop worked on it, Steele and her kids went to Rae Rae's Cafe on Central Avenue.
They are regulars at the cafe that opened in October 2014, said owner Nicci Rowley.
“They just had sandwiches for her and the boys to split," she said. "Everything seemed fine, everybody seemed to be completely normal, just like they always are.”
The boys played with the creamers and jelly on the table. The baby napped in her carrier.
After about an hour, the family finished their lunch and took off.
“Shocking," said Rowley about hearing the news of the baby's death. "Very shocking.”
— Laura C. Morel
Mike Benito, a Tampa criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, questioned what evidence investigators have to prove the manslaughter charge. For the state to prove the charge in court, he said, they would have to demonstrate that Steele had reason to believe leaving the infant with the 6-year-old could result in harm to the infant. Doing that, he said, is a tall order.
"You would have to show to a jury it would have been reasonable for her to believe the kid would behave this way if she left him alone with the baby," Benito said.
A charge of felony child abuse makes more sense, given what the sheriff said about the mother's actions.
"The sheriff can decide that he has enough probable cause to make this charge. But when the state attorney's office reviews it, they've got to determine much more than probable cause. They may decide there's not enough evidence … They could decide to charge her with felony child abuse, which would be leaving the kids in this situation to begin with."
"They're trying to put some of the blame for that beating death on her," he said. "I haven't really seen that before."