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Teen accused of killing baby appears in court

A horrible accident — but not murder.

That’s what a defense attorney said was behind the death of a 21-month-old baby left in the care of his 16-year-old cousin.

The 16-year-old boy appeared in Merced County juvenile court Thursday for an arraignment hearing, accused of three counts of homicide and child abuse in the death of the baby, King Steven McCowan.

The teenager, who was accompanied in court by his attorney Caleb Hegland, denied those charges on Thursday. The boy’s name isn’t being released because he is a juvenile.

Hegland said although the child’s death is a tragedy, his client isn’t a murderer. “He did not intend to kill or even hurt the child,” Hegland said. “He’s very sad that a child died.”

Merced police arrested the boy Sunday after responding to a South Merced home in the 1300 block of West Third Street, where they found the baby’s body lying on a bed. The body of the baby was found with wounds on his torso, back and legs — wounds that appeared to be inflicted by a belt.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Moranda said little when asked about the case: “We’ve reviewed the police reports and believe the charges are justified.”

Preliminary results from the Merced County Coroner’s Office autopsy indicate that the child died as a result of severe abdomen trauma resulting from a blow. The infant also had much bruising on his upper body.

The baby and his 4-year-old brother had been left in the care of the teenager for five days by their mother, 26-year-old Laquisha Yvette McCowan, according to Merced Police Cmdr. Floyd Higdon.

McCowan had gone to the Bay Area last Wednesday, leaving the two children with the teenager, Higdon said. Although McCowan returned home briefly Saturday and checked on the children, Higdon said she then returned to the Bay Area. The mother returned home later on Sunday after being called by her family members.

The teenager had tried to wake the toddler Sunday morning for breakfast, but the baby wouldn't wake up, Higdon said. He went across the street to get help from neighbors. Higdon said the neighbors entered the home, saw the dead baby and called police.

Higdon said the teenager told police that he had “whupped” both the baby and his 4-year-old brother with a belt Saturday night. Some of the wounds on the baby’s body were fresh, while other appeared to be days old, Higdon said.

The suspect faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, if convicted. He remains in custody at Merced County Juvenile Hall.

Prosecutors have not decideded whether the suspect will be tried as an adult, Moranda said.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or