LISBON - Painting a picture of a partying mom using her infant son as a paycheck and leaving him with sitters whenever possible, Assistant Prosecutor Timothy McNicol began laying out the case against accused murderer Miranda Todd in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Wednesday morning.
Defense attorney Charlie Kidder in his statement noted although the death was tragic and the jury may not agree with Todd's lifestyle, that is no reason to convict her.
"Miranda Todd cannot and should not be convicted of murder because we just want to wash our hands of this," Kidder said. "We can't just put a nice bow on it."
According to the story McNicol told the jury, about six weeks before her infant son's death Todd left Greg Dennison, who shared the last name with her son, Derek Dennison. She took with her another daughter, Aubrey, who was just under 2 years old at the time. A third child of Todd's, Cole, has lived with Todd's mother since birth.
While McNicol said Todd never wanted Derek Dennison and had talked about aborting him or putting him up for adoption, he said Greg Dennison talked her into keeping the child.
McNicol described their relationship as on again, off again. During the six weeks prior to the baby's death, it was off again. She moved in with an acquaintance on North Ellsworth Avenue, Kayli Stiffler, Stiffler's boyfriend Steven Van Pelt and their 4-year-old son, Joel.
Aubrey would soon be returned to Dennison's home, but Todd and Derek Dennison remained for six or seven weeks until the night of the 7-month-old baby's death. McNicol said Aubrey came back on July 3 but was returned by July 4, because Todd allegedly said, "Demons must have followed her from the Dennison residence." McNicol pointed out there was also a party in Sebring on July 4.
He pointed out Aubrey also was tougher to handle, while the baby was simple, had a WIC card, and was a paycheck, providing her with food stamps and cash assistance.
Not long after she moved in, McNicol said a physical sexual relationship began between Todd, Stiffler and Van Pelt. There were also problems between the two women as they competed for Van Pelt's attention.
The three would go drinking together, leaving Dennison with Stiffler's teenage sister or others. Additionally the three would use marijuana together in the vehicle or in the house.
McNicol described a visit from Todd's grandmother, Rita Heim, on July 16. Heim brought Todd some things, but Todd reportedly did not want her to go inside. When she did she reportedly smelled marijuana and picked up the baby, finding him screaming in pain. According to McNicol, Todd made excuses to her grandmother about the bruises on his side, claiming it was caused by a teething toy.
Heim spoke to Todd's mother later in the day and urged her to call Children Services, which she did later in the afternoon. However, McNicol said due to the protocol at the time, the screener for Children Services did not even enter the complaint into the computer for four days and it was determined there was not enough information to follow up.
"Children Services didn't do anything," McNicol said, "But neither did the defendant."
McNicol said on July 17, the three dropped the child at John Ingledue's house and went to Canton for a Q.P., which he later learned was a quarter pound of marijuana. Photos were taken of the baby at the Ingledue house, which do not show injuries. But McNicol said after Todd picked him up on foot and pushed him back home in a stroller, the baby had head bruises.
She did not take him to be checked out, reportedly saying if she did she may be accused of child abuse.
The evening of Dennison's death, the three reportedly smoked marijuana together in their bedroom and Kayli Stiffler began giving Van Pelt a massage, which McNicol said caused Todd to become angry and slam the door. Several minutes later she reportedly returned with Derek Dennison questioning what happened and turning him so they could see a protruding injury to the side of his head. Todd reportedly tried to push the injury back in with first her fingers and then the sides of her hands.
McNicol said instead of taking the baby to the hospital, Todd positioned him on pillows on the living room floor and iced his head. She then contacted Mike Condon and the two went for a walk to smoke marijuana and look at graves in Hope Cemetery, including one she showed him of an infant.
Later, McNicol said, Todd was alone with the baby as Van Pelt and Stiffler went to get alcohol and smoke marijuana in the vehicle. After they returned, the baby reportedly was found lifeless by Todd.
McNicol claimed Stiffler heard Todd admit to killing Dennison on the way to the hospital. He also pointed out to the jury Todd never went into the room or asked to see Dennison at the hospital.
"She didn't go back in to see him," he said. "She didn't even ask to go. She didn't want to see him. She knew what he looked like and she knew what she had done."
McNicol claimed Todd only hours after the funeral had made a statement about being done grieving and it being time to move on.
"She wanted the attention of a man," McNicol said, "and moreover she wanted her freedom ... to party, to live a carefree lifestyle. The evidence will show Derek was in the way."
Kidder, in his opening statement, deflected the story McNicol told, stating the prosecution can't prove it. He called the investigation "botched." He also claimed prosecution's case is more about quantity of testimony instead of quality.
"Attorney (Jennifer) Gorby and I have done everything we can to give you only the information you need to make a decision," Kidder said. "It appears to me the government wants you to believe it is an open and shut case."
Kidder points out three people lived in the home and all had access to Dennison. He also claimed that the consistent thing about the case is there being no confession.
"From day one (Todd) has said I didn't do this. I will not admit to it. The charges are false," Kidder said.
He also indicated the defense attorneys have not decided yet if Todd will take the stand and will make that decision toward the end.