Law enforcement agencies on Tuesday tracked down and arrested a man suspected of killing his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter in a New Orleans hotel earlier this month, officials said.
Anfernee Steele, 21, faces one count each of second-degree murder and cruelty to a juvenile in the Oct. 3 death of Jo’nyri Hawkins.
Police said that Steele had been on the run since he was named a suspect in the case on Oct. 15. New Orleans police, Houma police, Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s deputies, the U.S. Marshals and the regional chapter of Crimestoppers worked together to find him, and did so about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday while he was alone at an apartment complex in his hometown of Houma, authorities said.
According to court records, Jo’nyri — who is not Steele’s daughter — was in good health when her mother left her, a 1-year-old sibling and a teen relative with Steele in a room at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street while she went to a party.
When the mother returned about 5 a.m., she realized Jo’nyri was limp and unresponsive, and paramedics were called out to the hotel to bring the girl to the hospital, police said.
Anfernee Steele’s story just did not add up.
Doctors at the hospital pronounced the girl dead. A forensic pathologist later determined that Jo’nyri died from “massive internal bleeding” following blunt trauma to her abdomen.
The pathologist said the little girl was likely punched or kicked with so much force that it ruptured her liver and spleen.
The girl’s body also showed signs of prior physical abuse – bruising, scars, human bite marks, a fractured rib which had healed and injuries consistent with sexual molestation, police wrote in records later filed in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.
Police questioned Steele while the results of the autopsy were pending.
He allegedly said that a fall in the bathroom was what led to the girl’s injuries.
According to Steele, the girl had soiled herself and he was bathing her in the hotel room’s tub when he stepped out to take a nap because he had smoked marijauna earlier.
Steele allegedly said he heard the girl fall in the tub. So he woke up, pulled her out of the tub, dressed her and put her to bed.
According to the report, Steele said he didn’t think anything was wrong with Jo’nyri until her mother returned to the hotel.
New Orleans police have obtained a warrant to arrest a man accused of killing his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter in a Central Business Distr…
A search of the hotel room failed to turn up evidence supporting Steele’s version of events, according to police.
Among other things, police said all of the towels in the bathroom were dry. Also, they found a pair of Jo’nyri’s underwear and it was clean, which they said contradicted Steele’s story about bathing the girl after she soiled herself.
Following the autopsy, police said they believed Steele had abused and killed the toddler. They obtained a warrant to arrest him on Oct. 13.
In a statement Tuesday, New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said, “The arrest of Anfernee Steele once again demonstrates how well law enforcement agencies in southeast Louisiana work together.”
Steele would receive mandatory life imprisonment if he is eventually convicted of murdering Jo’nyri.
Jo’nyri’s funeral was Oct. 16. Her survivors included her parents, two siblings and her grandparents, a newspaper obituary for her said.
She was the youngest of three people killed Saturday in New Orleans
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