By EILEEN MCCLORY
After less than five hours of deliberation, a Hancock County jury found Brent Houdeshell, the 29-year-old Arlington man accused of killing a 2-year-old child, guilty on all counts Wednesday.
The charges include murder, an unclassified felony; child endangerment, a second-degree felony; and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony.
Houdeshell was charged with killing Breydon Ferrell, the son of Houdeshell’s former fiancee, on March 31, 2016, at a Findlay apartment.
The child’s mother, Alisha Young, cried quietly as the verdict was read in Hancock County Common Pleas Court. She declined to comment.
A sentencing date has not been set. Under Ohio law, an unclassified murder charge requires a life sentence, with at least 15 years to be served. The child endangerment and tampering charges could mean additional prison time.
“We’re thinking very much of the child and the child’s mother here,” Assistant Hancock County Prosecutor Steve Powell said after the verdict. “We feel there is justice for that.”
He thanked local law enforcement, emergency response personnel, and the Hancock County prosecutor’s staff for their work on the case.
Houdeshell and his lawyer, Adam Nemann, appeared surprised by the verdict. Nemann said he planned to file an appeal.
“My client and I were both stunned by this verdict,” Nemann said. “He maintains his innocence and he does to this day.”
The jury deliberated from 11:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m. Deliberations began after the attorneys presented their closing arguments Wednesday morning.
Assistant Hancock County Prosecutor Colleen Limerick said the state had shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Houdeshell abused Breydon, killed him, and deleted text messages that were important to the investigation.
She said the defense’s claim that Breydon fell out of his crib, causing a brain injury and fracturing his leg in the process, was preposterous.
Limerick said jury members likely have seen children fall out of cribs, and it is rare for a child to die from such a fall.
“You didn’t end up going to their funeral, and you didn’t have to talk to detectives and experts about their deaths,” Limerick told jurors.
Experts testified during the trial that the chance of a serious head injury occurring from a fall from a crib is about 0.48 in one million.
Limerick also pointed to Houdeshell’s changing statements to police, including whether he drank alcohol the day of the child’s death, whether he was angry with Young that day, and various other accounts that Houdeshell told police on the night of Breydon’s death.
Prosecutors also pointed to evidence presented by three medical experts called by the state: Dr. Cynthia Beisser, a pathologist and deputy coroner from the Lucas County Coroner’s Office; Dr. Randall S. Schlievert, a specialist in child abuse pediatrics at St. Vincent Medical Center, Toledo; and Dr. Jamie Downs, a medical examiner, forensic pathologist and medical legal consultant.
All three said Breydon’s death was a homicide. Schlievert and Downs both said Breydon’s injuries were consistent with child abuse.
All three testified that the break in Breydon’s leg would have been incredibly painful, and said that disproved the defense’s claim that Breydon walked, talked, and ate ice cream after the boy fell from his crib.
Limerick also pointed to Houdeshell’s “calm demeanor” the night that Breydon died. Police said Houdeshell showed very little emotion when authorities arrived at the apartment, and after he learned that Breydon was dead.
Houdeshell showed little emotion throughout the court proceedings, which began Jan. 8.
Defense counsel Nemann told jurors that Houdeshell was innocent, and said the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Houdeshell caused the boy’s injuries.
Nemann said there was no evidence presented by the state to show why Houdeshell would have wanted to harm Breydon. He said there was no evidence presented by prosecutors to show a history of child abuse, nor was there any evidence that Houdeshell was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the incident. Houdeshell told police he drank alcohol earlier in the day, but officers said he did not appear drunk while they were at the apartment.
Nemann also said Houdeshell had not lied to police.
He also showed text messages that showed flirtation between Houdeshell and Young the night of the boy’s death, including a text Houdeshell sent to Young stating that he was naked on a couch.
Nemann argued that Houdeshell would not have sent a message like that to Young directly after killing her child.
Nemann also said that Dr. Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist who testified Tuesday for the defense, agreed with Houdeshell’s claim that Breydon fell out of his crib and hit his head while falling down.
“This was a tragic accident,” Nemann told the jury.