CLEARWATER (FOX 13) - The 62-year-old mother whose 6-year-old son killed her newborn baby girl made her first appearance in court Friday on a manslaughter charge and bonded out of jail on Friday.
Kathleen Steele barely said a word during the hearing, letting her attorney do most of the talking. A judge set her bond at $100,000.
"This is a terrible tragedy for everybody that's involved and I'm sure there are a lot of factors that we need to find out that we can look into and kind of figure out exactly what took place and how everybody kind of move on a little bit," her attorney, Robert Love, said afterward while describing her current state of mind. "I found her to be certainly devastated by this. You can only imagine the shock and difficult time it is in this situation."
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Steele had her three young children with her Monday when she went to a cell phone repair store in St. Petersburg. Steele then left then in the store with the windows rolled up and the ignition off, the sheriff told reporters.
Frankie, Steele's 6-year-old told investigators the baby, also named Kathleen, began to cry and he beat her to death. The sheriff described the brutal nature of the attack as "one of the worst things that I’ve ever seen."
"I thought it was a very tragic situation that occurred," said Greg Burton, Steele's next door neighbor. "I feel sorry for Kathleen. I know she probably shouldn't have left the kids in the car unattended and that probably falls on her for that. I just can't believe Frankie would actually harm the baby."
Burton shed some light on when things might have started unraveling for Steele.
"I think she was coping pretty well up until the point of the fire," he said.
The fire happened at Steele's Redington Beach home in July, just days before before the baby was born. The family was forced to briefly move into a hotel and then a rental home on the same road as their house.
While in the hotel, however, investigators said an incident occurred that injured the baby and child protective services was looking into it. Before any detective work could occur, the baby died.
"It's horrible. It's horrible. It's just sad. It's just -- I don't even know how to describe what happened," Burton said, adding he never saw her mistreat the children. "I never saw any evidence of child abuse or anything. She always kept tight control on the kids, from what I could tell. She did yell at them, disciplinary-wise, when they were doing something wrong."
At one time, Kathleen Steele was on a reality TV show, telling the world what it was like to be pregnant with her first child at the age of 55.
In the show, which aired on TLC, Steele said she had tried to have a baby for years, but was not successful.
"I was going to try no matter what," she explained during the show. "We had been trying too long and lost many. You're sort of in denial."
Seven years later, she'd had three babies; her two youngest were conceived using artificial insemination with her dead husband's frozen sperm.
The judge ordered Steele to stay away from her two oldest children, who are now in foster care through the Department of Children and Families.