VAN WERT — The mother of 15-month-old Hayden Ridinger, who was found dead Nov. 15 at a motel complex in Delphos, is expected to be called to the witness stand Thursday in the aggravated murder trial of her live-in boyfriend, Christopher Peters.
Valerie Dean has been subpoenaed by Peters’ defense team to testify in the case. Defense attorney Bill Kluge, of Lima, said he expects Dean “to exert her Fifth Amendment rights” and refuse to testify in the case. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” the attorney said Wednesday at the conclusion of day three of the capital murder trial in Van Wert County Common Pleas Court.
Peters, 27, of Delphos, is charged with aggravated murder, felonious assault and child endangering in the death of the infant at The Old Lincoln Inn in Delphos. Dean faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in connection with her son’s death. Her trial is set for a later date.
The most damaging testimony to the defendant during the trial’s third day on Wednesday came from a former inmate at the Van Wert County jail, who said the defendant at one point during their time together in lockup said, “Every time I close my eyes I see the kid lying there.” On another occasion, the inmate testified, Peters told him, “I’m gonna go to court and ask for the death penalty because I can’t stand living with what I did.”
Upon cross-examination by defense attorney Bob Grzybowski, however, the former inmate agreed that being incarcerated is a stressful and emotional experience that sometimes causes individuals “to say things they don’t necessarily mean.”
The defense lawyers, as they had the previous day, steered testimony Wednesday to focus on Dean and her shortcomings as a mother. That included testimony from a Putnam County Children Services investigator who told jurors that at one point during a meeting with the deceased infant’s mother, Valerie Dean told her, “she didn’t want any more kids and that she’d rather have a dog than a child.” Deb Booth of the Putnam Job and Family Services agency also testified that Dean “told me she’d like for her child to go to foster care.”
In another portion of testimony Wednesday, Kluge suggested that a witness had come to the conclusion “that Valerie Dean was not the Mother of the Year.”
A Jailhouse Interview
Jurors spent much of the morning Wednesday listening to testimony from the lead detective in the case, including a taped interview conducted with the defendant after his arrest.
Detective David Clark with the Delphos Police Department described arriving at the Old Lincoln Inn around noon on Nov. 15 after a 911 call was received concerning an unresponsive infant at that location. He recalled speaking with the infant’s mother, Valerie Dean, whom he described as “visibly upset and at times hysterical” at the time.
Clark said Dean told him she had arrived at the apartment complex at about 7:30 that morning, after leaving work at Whirlpool in Findlay, and had observed her son in his crib. Dean told Clark she then went to sleep. Peters, in whose care the infant had been left overnight, was not at the apartment at the time, Clark testified.
Clark said Peters had informed Dean via a series of text messages that he would not be at the apartment when she arrived home because he was helping a friend.
It was not until about 11 a.m. that the infant was found to be dead in his crib.
Clark said he learned that Dean had contacted Peters on the evening of Nov. 15 and asked him to pick her up in Leipsic before the duo headed to Findlay for the night.
Three days later Clark spoke with Dean on the telephone, during which time she claimed not to have seen Peters. He said Dean provided a phone number where Peters could be reached. The phone belonged to Peters’ mother, who resides in Fostoria.
Through the assistance of the U.S. Marshal’s office, Peters were arrested on the afternoon of Nov. 18 in Fostoria and was transported to the Hancock County jail. During an hour-long jailhouse interview, which was played for jurors, Peters was at times agitated and at other times was rambling in his answers to Clark’s questions.
Peters was asked by Clark more than once if he knew Hayden Ridinger was dead. The defendant gave rambling responses but did not answer the question directly.
When asked by Clark about his relationship with the infant, Peters replied, “I would take a bullet for him.” The defendant, growing more agitated, then asked Clark, “How do I prove to people I didn’t do this? What do I need to do? I just want to be with” Valerie.
Asked about bruises and broken ribs on the infant’s body, Peters said only that the baby had pulled a vacuum cleaner over on top of himself “and screamed bloody murder” on the evening before he was found dead. Peters denied grabbing or striking the boy, however.
Testimony in the trial is expected to conclude Thursday.