A suburban Detroit man declared, "I didn't hurt my babies," after he was arraigned on murder charges Friday in the drowning deaths of his two toddlers.
Steven Nicholson was so distraught he could barely say his name as he stood in court just a few hours after prosecutors filed charges in the deaths of 15-month-old Ella Stafford and 13-month-old Johnathan Sanderlin, whose bodies were discovered in Nicholson's apartment.
Nicholson, 27, called 911 about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday to say the children had drowned.
When officers arrived, Nicholson was sitting on the floor with the bodies in front of him, Allen Park police Detective Jeff Miller told a judge.
Nicholson told police he woke up and found the kids in the bathtub but his statements are "inconsistent with evidence found at the scene," Miller said without elaborating.
Nicholson is charged with first-degree murder, murder committed during another felony and child abuse. Autopsies determined the toddlers were scalded. A not-guilty plea was entered.
"I didn't hurt my babies. I didn't hurt 'em. I was sleeping," Nicholson said as he was taken back to jail with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Family members in the gallery told him they loved him. "I know, baby," a woman replied when Nicholson declared his innocence.
Defense lawyers typically aren't present at initial court hearings. It was not immediately clear if Nicholson had an attorney yet.
The children have different mothers, and neither lived with Nicholson. They were not in the courtroom.
In a written statement, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the allegations had "affected even the most seasoned prosecutors in this office."
Funerals for Ella and Johnathan were scheduled for Saturday 200 miles apart. Johnathan will be buried in Osceola County in northwestern Michigan.
Reached at a funeral home in Cadillac, a woman who identified herself as Johnathan's aunt said the family had no comment on the murder charges. A message seeking comment was left for Ella's mother, Tayler Stafford, at a funeral home in Allen Park.
The Cadillac News quoted Johnathan's mother, Sarah McGee, as saying she suspected Nicholson was abusing the children and had informed Allen Park police. Asked for comment, Miller acknowledged she visited with officers, but he declined further comment.
Police released records to The Associated Press showing officers went to Nicholson's apartment at least four times, including three in September.
"No signs of physical abuse ... food in fridge," an officer said after the last visit, Sept. 24.
McGee said she saw Johnathan last weekend.
"I kissed him, and I said goodbye," she told the Cadillac newspaper.