LISBON - With Miranda Todd deciding not to take the stand Thursday, testimony in her murder trial quickly wrapped up in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court. The prosecution rested in the morning, and the defense finished in the afternoon after calling five witnesses.
Todd, 24, is charged with murder, involuntary manslaughter and endangering children in the death of her 7-month-old son Derek Dennison. Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday morning.
Assistant prosecutors Timothy McNicol and Tammie Riley Jones presented two witnesses on Thursday morning, both women who reported hearing Todd say she wanted closure in the evening following Derek's funeral.
"The grieving process was over," Pam Augustine said of Todd's comments. "She needed to find a job, a boyfriend and an apartment."
Augustine, invited Todd to sleep on the couch, after Todd "showed up" at her home during the afternoon or evening of July 23, 2010. Derek had died shortly after midnight that morning.
Augustine said she did not know Todd but knew her daughter Ashley Jezek and her daughter's fiance John Ingledue were friends with Todd. She knew Ingledue thought he was Derek's father, and Ingledue and Jezek had spent time with the baby, sometimes in her home, but not while she was there. Kayli Stiffler knocked on the door late on the night of July 22, 2010, to tell Ingledue Derek had been taken to Salem Community Hospital.
Augustine said when she walked into the family room at the hospital she saw Todd with her "knees pulled to her chest, rocking back and forth and saying 'they won't tell me nothing, they won't tell me nothing.'"
However, by the day of the funeral, Augustine testified Todd was getting close to Michael Condon, kissing and hugging him, sneaking out back to talk for hours. Augustine indicated she criticized them for their behavior, for kissing and Todd wanting to sleep at Condon's house.
"I told her 'you just buried your son'" Augustine said, adding she told her she could not go.
Defense attorney Jennifer Gorby challenged Augustine about whether Todd was free to come and go from her house or not. Gorby also questioned Augustine criticizing Todd's comments about needing a job and an apartment.
"Where was she supposed to go," Gorby asked Augustine. "You didn't want her to live there long term did you?" Augustine replied she did not and Gorby continued "She needed to do something with her life didn't she?"
Augustine said she just did not think it was appropriate, nor did she believe Todd should be out staying with guys.
"I don't run a flop house," she said.
Augustine testified she and other family members spoke to Salem police on July 27 about comments Todd had made while living in the home.
"She said she should have took drama in high school cause she could fool anybody, and she could have been an award winning actress," Augustine said.
Augustine described Todd's demeanor as a "light switch" in the days following Derek's death, adding one minute she was happy, the next she was crying.
When asked by Gorby if she felt Todd did not cry enough, Augustine said if it had been her son, she would have been crying and upset. Another time during testimony Augustine said instead of being ready for closure, if it had been her son she would have been ready for a "straight jacket."
Augustine said they drove Todd to the Guilford Lake area to get her cash assistance card sometime around the end of July or beginning of August. Despite Augustine telling Todd she did not think she should be spending the money because some of it was for Derek, Todd used the card.
Todd stayed with the Augustines until Aug. 8.
"I couldn't put up with her anymore," Augustine said, adding she told Todd to leave.
Gorby asked how Todd appeared when she arrived at the Augustine house, with the reply that she looked like she had stayed awake all night. Todd said she had no place to go and was allowed to take a shower. She said she was hungry. Augustine could not remember whether Todd had on make up or her nails painted, which was the testimony the day before by investigators who spoke to Todd the same evening.
Augustine's neighbor Amanda Korda testified she took Ingledue and Todd to the funeral home to help make arrangements for Derek. When Ingledue left the funeral home he was "distraught" Korda said, adding he buckled next to her car when he came out.
Todd was blank, Korda said, showing no emotions and not crying until she reached Ingledue next to the car. Todd told her she held the baby.
Korda also testified she gave Todd an ivy plant in an angel boy planter so she could leave it at the cemetery on the day of the funeral and it could grow. But Todd left it at the Augustine's house "like it never really mattered," Korda said.
Todd pleaded innocent on Feb. 18, 2011 to the three charges she faces, and an effort has been made by the court to keep jurors from learning that Todd has been in custody since Dec. 14, 2010. She appeared for court each day in dress clothes and jurors were timed to arrive in a method so they would not see Todd arrive in custody, in shackles from a sheriff's cruiser.
However, jurors learned of Todd's spending at least some time in the county jail from one of the defense witnesses, Pastor Gregory S. Pennington of the Lisbon Assembly of God. Pennington testified while he did not know her before Derek's death, he has visited Todd at the county jail. During those visits Todd reportedly "divulged her lifestyle" to the pastor, who prior to Derek's death was the incoming minister for Rita Heim, Todd's grandmother.
The retiring minister Herb Delong had known Todd as she had grown up attending church with her grandmother.
Pennington said he had never met any of the three - Todd, Steven Van Pelt nor Kayli Stiffler until the night at the hospital when Derek died. Heim had called Pennington and Delong to come. Pennington testified he was there to comfort the family.
He testified what he noticed the man with the tattoos smelled of alcohol. He later learned the man was Van Pelt.
He also said he noticed when he arrived all three looked like they were in "rough shape" adding it appeared they were not taking good care of themselves. He said there was a lot whispering going on.
Pennington additionally testified he told investigators on July 27 Todd looked devastated. He told investigators there was tension, and Van Pelt looked scared. Pennington said he prayed with all three, Todd, Van Pelt and Stiffler.
McNicol asked what Heim had told Pennington and he responded Heim was concerned about Todd and Todd's mother, Melinda Todd, "something to the effect of she did not even trust (Miranda Todd)."
When asked by defense attorney Charles Kidder about Van Pelt's tattoos, Pennington revealed they appeared to be Nazi symbols.
Another person called by the defense was Christopher Tewksbury, who said he was at least 90 percent sure he did not see Van Pelt in Sebring on July 22, 2010. Van Pelt and Stiffler had testified Tewksbury was one of the three people they saw when they went to Sebring to sell marijuana the afternoon before Derek died.
Self-employed as a general contractor, Tewksbury testified Van Pelt "does my muscle work." He said he has hired Van Pelt four or five different times to help out, but Van Pelt did not come to work on that Thursday.
Instead Van Pelt reportedly came in on Friday and told Tewksbury he did not want to lose his job because of him hearing things.
As investigators testified Wednesday, Tewksbury said he came to the Salem Police Department with his attorney when asked to give a statement. However, he said it was because he has had issues with police lying to him before, has a strong feeling against child abuse and felt being considered involved in this situation was bad publicity for his business. He admitted on the stand to doing prison time for drug trafficking.
Tewksbury said when he did speak to Van Pelt after he questioned by police, he told Van Pelt he was angry at him for costing him $400 for a lawyer for something he was not even involved in.
The other three people to testify for the defense were all employees of Children Services. First intake screener Leslie Gall and then Gall's supervisor Carrie Mitchell were asked various questions about the process that was used when Todd's mother, Melinda Todd called them with concerns about bruises on the side of Derek on July 16. The phone call was not logged until July 20 and a decision was made not to follow up on the complaint.
The third employee was Erin Buzzard, who was involved in the initial investigation at the hospital the night of Derek's death. Buzzard left the first interview after about 15 minutes and briefed Salem Detective Dave Talbert, who arrived at the hospital after the first interview began after investigators learned the death occurred in the jurisdiction of the Salem Police Department.
If convicted, Todd faces 15 years to life on the murder charge, a maximum of 10 years for involuntary manslaughter and five years for endangering children.