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Mother, grandmother take the stand

June 8, 2012
By DEANNE JOHNSON - Staff Writer ( , Morning Journal News

LISBON - Two members of Miranda Todd's family were among those called by the prosecution Thursday on the second day of testimony in the murder trial of Todd in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

Todd, 24, faces up to life in prison if convicted of all three charges facing her. Besides the murder charge involving the July, 23, 2010 death of her 7-month-old son Derek Dennison, Todd is additionally charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangering regarding the alleged failure to provide proper care for him.

Todd's grandmother, Rita Heim, testified about a visit she had with Todd and her great-grandson on July 16, 2010, when Todd asked her to bring diapers and wipes, but reportedly tried to keep her out of the apartment by telling her Dennison was asleep. When Heim went in anyway, she said the baby cried when she picked him up with her hands under his arms and around his back.

Article Photos

Morning Journal/Deanne Johnson
Miranda Todd, right, on trial for the murder of her infant son in 2010, speaks with one of her defense attorneys, Jennifer Gorby, prior to the start of testimony Thursday.

At first, Heim said, she thought it was just because she had not seen him in awhile, but later when Todd changed the baby she saw a bruise on his side. Heim said Todd explained at the time the baby had rolled on a toy and slept on it all night. She also testified that at one point during her visit Dennison was down between the crib's mattress and rails.

However, concerned about the bruise and feeling something was not right about it, Heim said she urged Todd to take the baby to the doctor, but her granddaughter did not. So Heim later that day spoke to her daughter, Melinda Todd, who in turn made a call to Children Services, in her words begging them to go check on her grandson.

Unfortunately, that call did not lead to Dennison being checked on by a case worker. Director of Jobs and Family Services Eileen Dray-Bardon testified about an apparent problem with the agency's record keeping. While Heim and Todd both say the call was made on Friday, July 16, the agency records indicate no report was entered into the computer system until late afternoon Tuesday, July 20. Phone records show a call was made from Todd's number to the agency on July 16.

Dray-Bardon said her investigation into what happened left her to believe the call screener, Leslie Gall, dealing with several lines at once and a computer program which would only allow her to enter one case at a time, may have written notes from the call on paper. The call came in about an hour before the agency closed on Friday. Dray-Bardon testified that Friday had been a busy day and Mondays are also busy at the agency. The notes may have gone without notice until Tuesday.

However, even once the notes from the call were entered into the computer, another employee who makes the decision on each call, Carrie Mitchell, did not determine the call worthy of a case. Dray-Bardon said Mitchell followed the state protocol at the time, which said if the bruise was considered superficial and there is an explanation given, the call would not be assigned as a case. In this case, she said Melinda Todd had not actually seen the bruise to describe it and the child's mother had given the grandmother an explanation.

Dray-Bardon testified training by the state changed that protocol 10 months ago. Now, any child under age 12 reported with a physical injury would probably be assigned as a case.

She testified there had been no disciplinary action taken against employees regarding the Derek Dennison case at this point.

Dray-Bardon was also asked about Miranda Todd coming into the Department of Jobs and Family Services on the morning of July 16, applying through another of the agency's departments for cash assistance, food stamps and medical cards. Todd reportedly didn't qualify for the food stamps and medical card because she was already receiving them from before. However, she was approved for $183 for the remainder of July and $355 for August in cash assistance.

On the application for those programs, Todd reportedly listed she was living with Sandy and Kori Stiffler at their home on Charlton Lane near Guilford Lake, a place where Heim said to her knowledge Todd had never lived.

Heim said she regularly saw Todd and the baby. Heim would park the bus she drove behind a Circle K in Salem to have a cup of coffee during her break and Todd would stop by. Heim said she was concerned Todd was taking the baby with her delivering newspapers early in the morning and encouraged Todd, who did not graduate high school, to go back to school.

Heim even said she "begged" Todd to let her take Dennison so she could go away to school, find a profession and then she would give the baby back.

"'Nanan, I can't give him to you,'" Heim testified Miranda Todd responded. "'I love him. I don't have any other children now. I love my son.'"

Todd's other son, Cole, now age 5 has always lived with Melinda Todd. Her daughter, Aubrey, who was just under 2 at the time of her brother's death, lives with the Dennison family.

Melinda Todd testified about two weeks after Cole was born, her daughter went out one night and then called to tell her she was not coming back.

"I assume she wasn't ready to be a mom," Melinda Todd said.

Miranda Todd would occasionally stop by, talk to Cole and bought the child gifts once for the holidays, Melinda Todd testified. She said she has not often been around Aubrey because she does not get along with the Dennisons and never saw Derek Dennison.

She testified she rarely spoke to her daughter, but did call her at the hospital to talk to her three times the night the baby died. She said Miranda Todd could not tell her what happened and was hysterical. After hearing the baby died, Melinda Todd said she didn't want to talk to her daughter any more and ended the third call.

Assistant Prosecutor Tim McNicol asked if she was angry and Melinda Todd responded, "Yes, I think she failed to protect him."

Heim said she went to the hospital and described Miranda Todd's demeanor as "a mess." After the baby died and Todd gave statements at the hospital, Heim said Todd asked to come home with her, but she declined mostly because Todd's brother was also staying with her at the time and the two did not get along. Instead, Heim drove her and John Ingledue to his home on McCracken Road. Heim said Ingledue is "supposed to be" the baby's biological father.

Both Heim and Melinda Todd also testified about Dennison's funeral, which was arranged and paid for by Heim. Lisbon police had to be called to the graveside service because some people came who upset Miranda Todd. Heim testified Valerie Dennison, who considered herself the baby's aunt, was screaming obscenities and Todd responded by yelling also.

Melinda Todd testified Miranda Todd was yelling and misdirecting her emotions, adding she believed Miranda Todd was upset the baby was dead, but was focusing her feelings elsewhere. She agreed with McNicol when he asked if Miranda Todd needs sympathy and likes to be the center of attention.

"She doesn't know how to compose herself," Melinda Todd said. "It's OK to be mad, but not to scream... She likes drama. Something's always got to be happening."

Heim was also asked by defense attorney Jennifer Gorby about the religion Miranda Todd was raised to believe in. Heim, who helped raise her, said they attended a Pentecostal Church. She added their religion believes in the speaking in tongues.

"We are very spiritualistic," Heim said. "We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit."

She described one incident when Miranda Todd was little and Melinda Todd asked Heim to come into the child's room because there was a coldness in the room. Heim said she felt a rush of wind go past her face, believed there was an entity in the room and when she started praying the entity went away.

When asked if she believed in demons, Heim responded she did not, but said she believes there is a balance between good and evil.

McNicol asked Heim if Miranda Todd ever told her demons would injure her son or demons were following Aubrey around. Heim seemed surprised by the question and responded she had not.



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