SARASOTA - A judge in Sarasota has set a Feb. 3 trial date for a couple accused in the 2012 abuse death of an autistic child.
Circuit Judge Frederick Mercurio said Tuesday that he'll set aside two weeks in February to hear the case against the girl's father, Kenneth Stoddard and her stepmother, Misty Stoddard.
Melissa Stoddard was 11 when authorities say she died of a lack of oxygen to the brain. Prosecutors say the girl had been tied and forced to sleep on a plywood board, her mouth duct-taped shut before her death last year.
Attorneys say their clients are innocent and are looking forward to presenting their case. Misty Stoddard faces first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse charges while Kenneth Stoddard is accused of aggravated child abuse. They lived in the home with five children and were expecting a baby when the girl died.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports the child had lived with her mother in Guilford County, N.C., until 2012. Documents from the Department of Children and Families indicate she moved in with her father because an older sibling was molesting her.
According to reports, Melissa Stoddard encountered more abuse in Florida. She was routinely tied to a board with holes drilled into it and she couldn't cry out because of the tape on her mouth.
Court records show the stepmother and father claimed she acted out at home and they couldn't control her.
School officials at Oak Park School said she knew how to do daily tasks to take care of herself, talked in short sentences and liked to play computer games.
But she rarely attended school during the final weeks of her life. The newspaper reports school officials were confused when the Stoddards said they didn't want her attending school if she was misbehaving. School staff had noticed, meanwhile, a significant decrease in tantrums.
Authorities say she stopped breathing on Dec. 12. She was declared brain dead and was hospitalized until Dec. 17, when she died.
Prosecutors are still trying to decide whether to try the couple together. The case includes more than 60 witnesses, receipts and Internet searches of the Stoddard home.
The newspaper reported that Misty Stoddard, 36, remains in jail. Kenneth Stoddard, 36, is free on bail. Their other children were placed in foster care.