LISBON - It took a jury a little more than half an hour in deliberations Friday afternoon to convict Miranda Todd of the 2010 murder of her 7-month-old son, Derek Dennison.
She was found guilty on all three charges she faced - murder, involuntary manslaughter and endangering children. Todd's mouth opened when the first of the verdicts was read. By the time the last was completed she had teared up.
Despite a request for immediate sentencing by the prosecution, Todd, 24, will be sentenced next Friday morning by Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam.
Miranda Todd quietly reacts as the verdict finding her guilty of murdering her 7-month-old son is read in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, Friday. She was seated between her attorneys Jennifer Gorby (left) and Charles Kidder (right). (Photo by Deanne Johnson)
Assistant County Prosecutor Timothy McNicol said he had wanted immediate sentencing because "this was such an aggregious crime." He was surprised by the speed of the verdict, a decision he called satisfying.
McNicol thanked the "exhaustive efforts" of Salem Detective David Talbert and County Prosecutor Investigator Tina Dillworth in making the conviction possible, adding "they worked tirelessly."
His co-counsel Tammie Riley Jones said Todd faces a mandatory 15 years to life on the murder charge and up to three additional years on the endangering children charge. The involuntary manslaughter conviction can only be served concurrently with the murder charge.
Washam concluded with his instructions to the jury at 11:55 a.m. The jurors retired into their chambers, then immediately went to lunch. They began deliberating at 1:06 p.m. and informed Washam's bailiff, Lori Sweeney a decision had been reached by 1:40 p.m.
Closing arguments earlier in the morning had taken about 90 minutes.
In his closing arguments, McNicol went back over many of the dramatic things Todd did for attention, stating at one point she loved herself more than her child. He went over all the times Todd was not the center of attention on the day Derek died, adding it was a shame for Derek.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you've heard everything," McNicol said. "This case has had everything, drugs, sex and terrible, terrible violence. You've heard about this defendant's need for attention and drama. This case has everything you would see in a TV show. (Todd) is not the star. Derek is and what she did to him."
McNicol referred to her comments about blacking out and not remembering about the time she went after Stiffler in the apartment, noting Todd used the same excuses three weeks later when Derek died. He went through several instances where Todd was manipulative with Van Pelt and other men in her life.
McNicol claimed the only reason plausible for why Todd did not take Derek to the hospital was because she was the one injuring him.
He also brought attention to one of the very few times anyone paid attention to Derek, adding Van Pelt's mother Laura Van Pelt, who was not Derek's family, told the jury how she scooped the boy up from the floor and held him. She described his baby smell. McNicol recalled Laura Van Pelt's words that she wanted him to know there were people who cared and more to life than solitary confinement on the livingroom floor.
"You've paid more attention to Derek in these two weeks, two years after he died, than anyone did during his short life," McNicol told the jury. "I urge you to return a verdict consistant with the evidence....Derek's life was worth more than a party, a paycheck and a meal ticket or a boyfriend."
Jones, in her closing arguments, presented a timeline, going back through the days and hours leading up to Derek's death and Todd's behavior after he had died. Jones said Todd failed to provide the basic care a mother should provide and then killed her infant son with blows to the head with such force it caused two skull fractures.
Jones explained the days of testimony were necessary to help jurors understand how, through the course of time, all the injuries happened to Derek. She also explained the information presented by the defense was merely "smoke and mirrors."
Jones went through each time in the last two weeks of Derek's life when Todd chose going out and smoking marijuana over her son and how Todd had an opportunity to leave the home on North Ellsworth Avenue days before he died. She also showed a pattern of Todd becoming angry or attempting to get Steven Van Pelt's attention, coinciding with the times when when bruises and injuries were happening to Derek.
Demonstrating in front of the jury, Jones showed how Van Pelt and Todd's other roomate, Kayli Stiffler, both described Todd pushing in the swelling on the side of Derek's head hours before he died.
"Who does that to a child," Jones queried before the jury. "Who notices that type of injury and doesn't take a child to the hospital, doesn't do anything but pack his head in ice and leave to go party."
Jones reminded the jurors of Todd telling investigators Derek was smiling at her and cooing when she changed his diaper after her walk, which Jones said proves the injury did not happen while she was out. Dr. Joseph Felo had testified the child would have been unconscious or comotose after receiving the blow to the head which eventually killed him.
Defense attorney Jennifer Gorby argued investigators rushed to target Todd as the suspect after only 55 minutes of questioning. She accused prosecutors of playing on the jury's emotions, showing "heartbreaking photographs," and trying to depict Todd as an "uncaring, unfeeling mother."
Gorby relayed to the jury all the times between 7 p.m. and 11:27 p.m. when Van Pelt, Stiffler and Todd were all inside the home together. She additionally pointed out Van Pelt and Stiffler also fit descriptions given of Todd as detached from Derek.
"You've been told Kaylie Stiffler told Miss Todd numerous times to take Derek to the hospital, but did nothing," Gorby said. "She did not call police, Children's Services or even check on this child when (Todd) went for a walk."
She added both Van Pelt and Stiffler described seeing Todd push on Derek's head when it was injured, but neither did anyhing.
"Either it didn't occur the way Steven Van Pelt and Kayli Stiffler told us or they just didn't care," Gorby said.
Gorby went through many points in the testimony pointing out inconsistencies in many of the statements, including those of Van Pelt and Stiffler. She reiterated Van Pelt and Stiffler both left out their trip to Sebring when talking to investigators and the couple had smoked marijuana before driving their then-4-year-old son Joel to Sebring where they sold marijuana.
Gorby also attacked statements by Stiffler that she was certain on the way to the hospital Todd had said "God I'm sorry. Please don't take my baby from me. I didn't mean to do this." Stiffler had said she heard Todd say it every night in her reoccuring dreams.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is reality. This is not a dream," Gorby said, admitting to the terrible lifestyle choices of Todd and her roommates. "Do any of these things prove beyond a reasonable doubt Miss Todd killed her child?"
Gorby also went over several of the lies Van Pelt allegedly made to investigators and even his own mother about his lifestyle choices. She went through several inconsistencies in his story also. She asked the jury to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses.
Gorby also explained Todd's behavior after the baby's death and funeral as that of a grieving mother. She questioned who decides what is an appropriate level of grieving. She suggested Todd smoking marijuana may have conforted her.