Sarasota, Florida – The trial of Misty Stoddard began Monday. She is charged with first degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse of her 11 year-old step-daughter, Melissa, who was diagnosed with autism. The first witness was a paramedic who was present when Melissa was found unresponsive. She had been tied to a board with straps and duct tape, with a helmet on her head, and duct tape over her mouth, which prevented her from breathing.
Melissa’s five half-siblings and former teachers are also expected to testify during the trial. A representative from the Department of Children and Families indicated that Melissa’s siblings reported that she was often restrained with straps and duct tape, and that her stepmother often covered her mouth with duct tape in order to keep her quiet. Prosecutors intend to show that Melissa was routinely restrained and abused during the three month period while she lived with her father and stepmother in rural, East Sarasota county.
Melissa’s father, Kenneth Stoddard, is also facing lesser charges of aggravated manslaughter. The trial is expected to last one to two weeks.