Father sentenced to life in drowning deaths

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK — A father convicted of killing his two infant children was sentenced Friday to life without parole.

Steven Nicholson was sentenced before Judge Vera Massey Jones. He was found guilty in a bench April 26 for one count of first-degree premeditated murder for the death of 15-month-old Ella Stafford and one count of second-degree murder in the death of 13-month-old Jonathon Sanderlin. He also was found guilty of felony murder and child abuse of Ella.

Nicholson received life without parole on the first-degree murder charge, 315 months to 60 years for the second degree murder charge, and one to 15 years on the child abuse first-degree charge.

Both children lived with him but had different mothers.

At his bench trial, Jones said Nicholson did not intend to kill Jonathon, but that the stress of parenthood got to him. She said she believes he then killed Ella to establish an alibi.

The verdict came after a three-week trial that featured police video of Nicholson’s interrogation, in which he was often argumentative with officers.

Police arrived shortly after 2 a.m. Oct 19 after Nicholson, then 27, called 911 to report his two children had drowned in the bathtub. He told police then that the children had gotten out of their cribs and turned the water on themselves while he was asleep. The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s laboratory determined the children died of drowning, and that the scalding water burned their skin off.

Ella’s mother, Tayler Stafford, 19, shared custody of her daughter with Nicholson and Jonathon’s mother, Sarah McGee, gave full custody of her son to Nicholson before moving to Cadillac.

Nicholson had been laid off from his job as a bricklayer prior to the murders. Residents of the Valley Spring Apartments, where he lived, said they had seen him verbally abuse the children in the past.