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PEACE AT LAST
WITH JAMES' CONVICTION, MOTHER OF TINY VICTIM FINALLY FEELS SAFE

When Victoria DeLeon heard that a jury had found Steven Ray James guilty of capital homicide, she visited the grave of the infant son James murdered two years ago.

Placing flowers on Steven Roy James' headstone, she spoke to her son, just as she has always done. But this time, her message was peaceful, not fearful."Everything's OK," she whispered. "Your daddy's going to be in prison for a long, long time. He won't hurt anyone else again."

She sat on the wet grass in the cemetery for hours, ignoring the rain.

In her Logan apartment, a smiling photo of her son is prominently displayed in the living room where she can see it from her bedroom or the kitchen.

"He's still my son, even though he's not here," DeLeon said in Deseret News interview Wednesday evening. "I know I'll be with him again someday. He's an angel now, so he can be with me everywhere I go."

When she comes home from her job at a meat packing company, she walks over to his photo and shares her feelings about her day.

"If I want to cry or if I'm happy, I talk to him. He understands," she said.

After receiving news Wednesday afternoon that James was sentenced to spend the "rest of his natural life in prison," DeLeon replied, "I thank God. Now I am free."

She is not disappointed that prosecutors didn't seek the death penalty. "If he dies, then it's over. That's not fair. He should have to hurt for what he did."

It's been more than two years since James reported that his 3-month-old son had been kidnapped from his car while he shopped at a Logan drugstore. But time has not yet eased the pain for DeLeon, who can't speak of the incident without crying. "When my baby was lost, my life ended," she said.

That day - Aug. 26, 1986 - DeLeon did not suspect her boyfriend was telling a lie. She was furious with him for leaving the child in the car, but she did not imagine James was capable harming her son. She trusted him. Although the child was frequently bruised or cut after being left with James, she believed the father's explanation of the so-called "accidents."

A native of Mexico, DeLeon could not speak fluent English when she lived with James. She depended on him to teach her about American life. He forbade her from watching television news to shelter her from "bad things."

"I knew only what he wanted me to know," she said.

With anger and bitterness, DeLeon recalls the day when police officers informed her that James was not the man he pretended to be.

Just weeks after the alleged kidnapping, police officers told her that James had served time in a California prison for kidnapping a woman at gunpoint. He had a long criminal history of assault, burglaries, dealing drugs. But the most chilling news was that James had abused a 3-month-old son he had from a previous marriage. James had placed the child on a hot stove, resulting in third-degree burns.

At that "terrible, sad moment," she knew she would never see her baby alive. And she realized that man she trusted and thought she loved had murdered their son.

"It was so hard for me to find out what he did to his own son. Who wants to hurt your own baby? It's not human. Maybe for animals. But a person? How could he do it?"

Despite warnings from police that James was dangerous, DeLeon chose to stay with him so he would not flee the state. She believed he knew where her baby's body was buried and that she would someday find out from him. She kept her suspicions and knowledge of his criminal background to herself.

"I didn't care about my life. I needed to find out about my son."

For her safety, investigators kept in contact with her every day. On Oct. 11, 1986, the baby's body was discovered in a marsh near Bear River, wrapped in a blanket weighted down with six large rocks. Police arrested James about two weeks later.

Instead of agonizing over how her baby was killed - if his death was quick or if he suffered much pain - DeLeon tries to focus on the happy memories they shared in his short life.

In her conversations with friends, she frequently talks about playing with Steven Roy, bathing him or dressing him up in a new outfit.

Like any proud mother, she keeps several photos of her son in her wallet.

"I loved being with my baby. I hated having to leave him to go to work. Weekends were my favorite times. Even when I did the dishes, I had him sitting near me so I could talk with him," she said.

James complained about the time she spent with the baby. He urged her to go parties with him instead of playing with young Steven Roy, she said.

After the child's disappearance, DeLeon learned James frequently left the child alone at their apartment while he went drinking.

"I knew he was jealous of the baby. I didn't know he could kill him, though. I thought he was proud because he was his son, too."

Since her baby's death, DeLeon has difficulty trusting anyone. She blames herself for being so naive and believing. During the years spent waiting for James' trial, DeLeon has postponed major decisions in her life.

Taking the witness stand to testify against James was difficult, but it allowed her a chance to expose him as a "man who lives a lie," she said.

Identifying the T-shirt, diaper and striped baby blanket Steven Roy was wearing when his body was found was "very, very hard and hurtful. I wish he was still alive.' Equally difficult was listening to the defense attorneys describe James as a "loving father" being framed by drug dealers, she said.

Her friends had warned her that a jury may not find James guilty. No one saw James kill the baby. But DeLeon prayed each day for justice.

Now, as she visits her son's grave, she feels peaceful and safe.

"I'm happy that he is in prison and I will not have to look at him again. I know my son is happy, too."