SARASOTA, Fla - A Sarasota stepmother accused of killing her 11-year-old stepdaughter by tying her to a board and duct taping her mouth came face-to-face in court Thursday with the girl's biological mother.
Misty Stoddard is facing felony first-degree murder charges and aggravated child abuse charges in the death of Melissa Stoddard.
Misty testified in her own defense.
"I found not only the scissors, [but] multiple knives hidden in her room, and I had concerns for my daughter sleeping in there," testified Misty regarding Melissa's alleged behavior.
Misty told jurors she was not aware her husband, Kenneth Stoddard, Melissa's biological father, bought the wooden board Melissa was tied to.
She also testified that her husband only revealed the purchase when he forced her to use to the board to act out his sexual fantasies.
"Yes," replied Misty when asked if that is why her DNA was on the wooden board.
Misty also alleges her husband choked her and hit her while she was tied to the board.
She said her husband also used the board to punish Melissa.
"He brought the board in and put her on it, and I did not approve," Misty said.
Misty told jurors she planned to leave her husband and to take the children with her.
Lisha Stoddard, Melissa's biological mother, provided tearful testimony for about 40 minutes.
"No," replied Lisha when prosecutors asked her if she ever gave permission for her daughter to be tied.
She gave the same response when asked if she gave Misty power of attorney or permission to take Melissa to the doctor.
During Lisha's testimony, Misty wept several times.
Defense attorneys argued that Kenneth Stoddard was solely responsible for making decisions regarding Melissa's care. They say Misty is not responsible for her stepdaughter's death.
Kenneth Stoddard is facing aggravated child abuse and tampering with evidence charges. His case will go to trial later this year.
Jurors also heard from the pediatrician who treated Melissa.
"No," responded Dr. Patricia Blanco when asked if she ever told Misty and Kenneth to duct tape Melissa's hands.
Blanco also testified that she never told the Stoddards to restrain the girl in any way.
The medical examiner also testified.
He told jurors he is standing by his ruling that Melissa died as a result of homicide, specifically an obstructed airway consistent with gagging.
He also noted the girl had lacerations on her arms consistent with ligatures.
Defense attorneys called Daniel Goffinet, Melissa's former teacher at Oak Park School, to the stand around 2:30 p.m.
Goffinet described Melissa as a "handful" and testified she had to be sent home several times due to her behavior. However, Goffinet said most of the autistic students in his class required the same attention.
"She would take things from other students, mostly food," said Goffinet.
According to Goffinet, he did have discussions with both Misty and Kenneth regarding Melissa's behavior. He added that he never saw any visible bruises on Melissa and that she appeared healthy when she entered his class.
Prosecutors pointed out during cross examination that Melissa was receiving excellent marks and her behavior was excellent right before she was "abruptly" pulled out of school the week before Thanksgiving 2012.
Jody Smith was the defense's second witness.
Smith is a social worker at Oak Park School.
When Melissa left school, Smith testified she visit the Stoddard family at their home to find out why. Smith said when she went to the home Melissa was not there but was told she was with her father and given an explanation as to Melissa's absences.
"Melissa's behavior was so intense she could not get her down the road to the bus," said Smith.
Smith said Misty was overwhelmed taking care of and meeting Melissa's demands. Smith offered to find additional help for the Stoddard family.
Prosecutors contended that Smith failed Melissa because she did not physically see Melissa, which was the purpose of the home visit. Smith testified that she never entered the Stoddard home and was stopped at the front door by Misty.
"I was not concerned at that time," Smith testified when asked if she was concerned about Melissa's safety.
The defense recalled Detective Northfield to the stand next.
Northfield was the lead detective on this case.
Defense attorneys peppered her with questions regarding the jailhouse informant who testified Stoddard confessed to the killing when they shared a cell in December 2012.
"She had information I couldn't believe she had," said Northfield.
Again, defense attorneys brought up the credibility of Barbara Whitehead, the jailhouse informant, pointing to her 25 felony convictions for fraud, forgery and grand theft.