VAN WERT — Following more than six hours of deliberation, a Van Wert County jury early Friday evening found Christopher Peters guilty of aggravated murder in the death of an infant left in his care late last year.
Jurors found the evidence presented by the state of Ohio to be sufficient to find the defendant guilty of aggravated murder, an unspecified felony; felonious assault, a second degree felony; and endangering a child, a third-degree felony, in the death of 15-month-old Hayden Ridinger. The 15-month-old’s body was found dead inside an apartment shared by the defendant and the infant’s mother at The Old Lincoln Inn in Delphos.
Peters, 27, of Delphos, will be sentenced Oct. 16 and is facing a maximum sentence of life without parole. The defendant showed no emotion as the verdicts were delivered. Peters’ bond was revoked and he was remanded into custody.
Van Wert County Prosecutor Eva Yarger had words of praise for the Delphos Police Department and Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office employees who collected the evidence in the case. She also thanked Special Prosecutor Juergen Waldick “for his experience” and assistance in trying the case. “He was invaluable to me,” said Yarger.
The prosecutor also complimented the work of jurors. “This is a great system, where the collective wisdom of the jury is greater than any one individual,” she commented.
Yarger said she would likely ask the court to impose the maximum sentence for Peters. “I believe he deserves it.”
In closing arguments to the jury Friday morning, Yarger urged members to carefully weigh the evidence they had heard and convict Peters. She revisited testimony that showed Peters left the infant alone at the Delphos apartment complex on the early morning hours of Nov. 15.
“Why did the defendant leave the apartment? We submit that he realized Hayden was dead or dying and he was running away,” Yarger said. The prosecutor also reminded jurors that Valerie Dean, the child’s mother, was working at Whirlpool in Findlay at the time of the child’s death and that Hayden was in the defendant’s care at the estimated time of death.
The infant’s death was attributed by medical experts to blunt force trauma due to massive injuries to the body. Defense attorneys throughout the trial had attempted to blame Valerie Dean for the child’s death and also brought in an expert witness who attributed the infant’s death of an overdose of Benadryl.
“This case is not about Valerie Dean; it’s not about Benadryl,” Yarger told jurors. “This is about Christopher Peters beating a little boy to death. He purposely and violently beat Hayden, causing his death, and then he took off.”
Lima attorney Bob Grzybowski representing Peters, offered jurors a significantly different impression of the evidence presented.
“I believe the state has failed miserably” to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Peters caused the death of Hayden Ridinger.
“Our position is that Valerie Dean killed Hayden. At best, we have Chris Peters guilty of leaving a child unattended.”
While prosecutors attempted on more than one occasion to discredit a defense witness who testified Thursday that the infant died as the result of an overdose of Benadryl, Grzybowski said in the final analysis it mattered little.
“The child died; there’s no question about that. So what if our witness said it was his conclusion that Benadryl was the cause of death. Who cares?” the defense attorney said. “The killer is Valerie. You have to find him (Peters) not guilty.”
Peters pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, felonious assault and endangering children in connection with the infant’s death. Death penalty specifications have been removed from the case.
The child’s mother, 24-year-old Valerie Dean, faces involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges in connection with the infant’s death.
Defense attorneys said Thursday Dean would be the lone witness called to the stand Friday as testimony in the case wrapped up. She was present in the courthouse Friday morning, along with her attorney, but was never called to take the stand.