Suspect nabbed for murder of child
By Judith Pannebaker
Steven Shannon Veselka expected to mark his 36th birthday in style. To his surprise, he found himself confined to the Kerr County Jail.
Veselka was arrested Friday, August 8, in Kerrville on capital murder charges, stemming from the 2001 death of a child in Bandera County.
A special Grand Jury convened earlier that day by 216th District Attorney Bruce Curry returned the indictment. However, immediately after the indictment, the file was sealed, pending Veselka’s arrest. It was feared he was a flight risk.
Officers with Kerr County, Bandera County and the DA’s office, arrested Veselka without incident at approximately 3 pm in a Kerrville Mini Mart in the 2200 block of Highway 16 and Loop 534. Veselka had apparently been living in Kerr County at the time of his arrest.
He has been charged with the murder of 22-month-old Cheriko Ressler. Veselka allegedly killed Ressler by blunt force trauma to the head in October 2001. Veselka could receive the death penalty if found guilty.
At the time of the child’s death, Veselka had apparently been living with Ressler’s mother, Rebecca Sturgis, in Enchanted River Estates. Sturgis is presently living with her child and mother in Austin and could not be reached for comment.
Veselka’s parents, who are reportedly well off, purportedly owned the mobile home in which Sturgis, her two children and their son lived at the time of the attack.
The toddler was airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio where he later died. An autopsy performed by a Bexar County Medical Examiner revealed Ressler had suffered extensive trauma to both sides of his head. Then-Bandera County Sheriff James MacMillian initiated an investigation, which apparently went nowhere for years.
According to Kerr County Sheriff’s Office Chief Investigator Capt. Carol Twiss, investigators with the 216th Judicial District and Bandera County Sheriff’s Office brought new information to the grand jury that led to Veselka’s indictment and subsequent arrest.
In an interview, 216th Judicial District Investigator Ernie Lobello described the arrest as a “joint effort” of law enforcement officers in both Bandera and Kerr counties. “Something like this only works when everyone works together,” he said, giving credit to all officers involved in the operation.
Several months ago, BCSO Investigator Scott Sharp had requested that Lobello review the cold case. Sharp had been a deputy in 2001 when the toddler was killed.
Describing the process that ultimately led to Veselka’s arrest, Lobello said, “I made a list of things that needed to be followed up on.” He also spoke with the Texas Ranger who had originally been assigned to the case. He is now working in the Dallas area.
“I also updated Ranger Lance Coleman, who inherited the case and is currently assigned to Bandera County,” Lobello said. “I then talked with Scott Sharp and Sheriff (Weldon) Tucker about the case. They asked me, ‘Is it indictable?’ and I said, ‘Yes’.”
In addition to speaking with law enforcement officers who had worked the nearly seven-year-old case, Lobello also re-interviewed potential witnesses.
“We established a timeline and determined within that timeframe when the injuries could have occurred. It was just a two-hour window. A potential four other people could have been involved in the incident. However, they all provided (credible) alibis.”
Lobello also said that new evidence had been collected, explaining cryptically, “It was in existence, but had not been discovered, in 2001.”
On the day of Veselka’s arrest, he, Sharp and Coleman investigated possible places where Veselka might be staying in Bandera County, while BCSO Deputy George Wintle staked out Veselka’s Kerr County residence.
“Veselka came out of the house and hopped into his pickup so George followed him,” Lobello explained. “George radioed us about what was happening and then radioed the Kerr County Sheriff’s Office requesting that the truck be stopped because there was a warrant out for Veselka’s arrest.”
Lobello remains confident that he and his fellow officers have built a strong case against Veselka.
“(Veselka) was dead set no one would be able to prove he had done it. He thought he would never be arrested,” Lobello said. “He was wrong.”
In an interview, BCSO Chief Don Berger anticipated that Veselka would be transferred to the Bandera County Jail within the next couple of days.
“The first thing that will probably happen is a hearing before the district judge to get his bond reduced,” Berger said, adding that Veselka had retained a defense attorney from San Antonio.
At press time, Veselka remained in the Kerr County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond.