When David Stoddard was 11 years old, he already was looking for a way to escape the abuse of his parents.
The Barberton man’s world at that age was filled with such “chaos and dysfunction” that, according to court testimony, he tried to commit suicide.
Defense attorney Brian Pierce explained those painful events Tuesday morning in Stoddard’s continuing death-penalty case, asking a Summit County jury to sentence him instead to life in prison with some chance of parole.
“The trial was emotional,” Pierce told the panel in his opening statement, “and this will be emotional. You are going to hear some horrific and disturbing things about David Stoddard and the way he was brought up.”
Although not an excuse for what he did, Pierce said, Stoddard’s history does help explain how it got to this point after a childhood marred by psychological trauma and physical abuse.
Stoddard, 26, was convicted in March of aggravated murder, reckless homicide and other crimes in connection with a January 2013 break-in and shooting rampage at an East Archwood Avenue home in Akron.
A pregnant 16-year-old, Anna Karam, was shot to death. Jessica Halman, 19, was shot in the head but survived.
Pierce and co-counsel Jonathan Sinn called a clinical psychologist from North Carolina, Dr. Victoria Reynolds, as their first witness in what is known as the mitigation phase of the trial.
She was affirmed by the court as an expert witness on the effects of childhood trauma.
As part of her 45-page report detailing Stoddard’s psychological condition, Reynolds told the jury that both of his parents had profound problems with drugs and alcohol throughout his childhood.
His mother died from an overdose in 2011, she said, and his father and older brother both are in prison now with drug convictions.
Another story brought several jurors to tears.
Reynolds said that when Stoddard was only 8, his father became so enraged by the effects of an illness, he put the boy’s head into a toilet and flushed it until his body grew limp.
Medical records and Stoddard’s case history with Summit County Children Services also showed that there were so many incidents of abuse, he had five hospitalizations before the age of 12.
In an interview with Stoddard at the county jail in March, Reynolds said she learned that whenever he remembered seeing his parents as a child, “they were high or strung out on drugs.”
“That can change anyone’s behavior,” she told the jury.
Reynolds said Stoddard particularly recalled one night that his mother came home, stumbling as she walked into his room, and “slobbering over him as she tried to speak to him” in his bed.
In a case worker’s interview with Stoddard at the time, records show he was asked what he would do if he could change her behavior. He replied: “I wish my mother would quit using drugs.”
Common Pleas Judge Thomas Teodosio is hearing the case.
According to state sentencing guidelines, the jury has four options: life in prison with a chance of parole after 25 or 30 years, life without any chance of parole or death.
Prosecutors said in brief remarks that the aggravating factors of the crime far outweigh any defense against the death penalty.
At 4 a.m., Stoddard forced his way into the home and began firing, they said, first leaving Halman where she fell from a point-blank gunshot, then continuing to fire as Karam came down the steps with a friend.
Closing arguments are expected Thursday.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.