An Akron police officer told a judge that he found a methamphetamine lab in the basement along with other drug evidence in the kitchen and a bedroom of the St. Leger Avenue home where 17-month-old Patrick Lerch died early this year of meth poisoning.
At about 4:30 on the morning of Feb. 27, some five hours after the child was pronounced dead at Akron Children’s Hospital, Officer Chris Crockett said that he told the child’s mother, Heather Lerch, she was being placed under arrest on felony drug charges, he testified.
Crockett’s testimony, marking the first time Akron police investigators publicly revealed details about the alleged crime scene evidence, came Tuesday morning during a Summit County Common Pleas Court suppression hearing before Judge Tom Parker.
All statements Lerch made to police on the night her son died should be disallowed, her attorney claims, because she was not given her Miranda rights by a juvenile detective, Gary Shadie, who conducted two interviews with Lerch earlier that night.
Crockett testified that he did give Lerch her Miranda rights — and that she understood them all — shortly after his 4:30 a.m. interview began on the sixth floor of police headquarters downtown.
Parker took the dispute under advisement and said he would issue a written ruling well in advance of Lerch’s Aug. 20 trial date.
Lerch, 20, is facing a 19-count indictment on charges of felony murder, multiple counts of child endangering and involuntary manslaughter, one count of complicity to commit murder and numerous felony drug charges related to methamphetamine.
At issue in the suppression hearing, both sides say, is whether the evidence shows Lerch was not in official police custody, and thus, free to go at any time during her two interviews with Detective Shadie.
The first of Shadie’s interviews with Lerch was conducted Feb. 27 at Children’s Hospital, at about 12:30 a.m., according to Shadie’s earlier testimony.
His second interview with her was conducted later, between 1:30 and 2 a.m. at police headquarters.
Shadie admitted in his July 13 testimony that he did not give Lerch her Miranda rights.
However, he also told the judge, under lengthy questioning by Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Peacock, that Lerch willingly went to the police station to be interviewed, was never placed in handcuffs, was never detained and was never told she would be arrested during both of his interviews.
Lerch, dressed in red-striped jail clothes and shackled at the wrists and ankles, was present in court for Tuesday’s hearing but did not testify.
She spent most of the hearing rocking back and forth on a chair at the defense table, speaking only to her attorney Brian Pierce.
As part of the defense case for suppression of Lerch’s statements to police, Pierce showed the judge a police video of Lerch in the juvenile interview room at the station.
Inside the small room, with no windows and one door, which was opened slightly, Lerch was sitting alone on an attached chair of a metal table. She was dressed all in black, crying and coughing repeatedly.
“Can I get out of here?” she said at one point.
“No,” an unidentified police officer said, followed immediately by Lerch’s reply, “I’m claustrophobic.”
Officer Sean Taylor, who drove Lerch to Children’s and, later, to the police station in his cruiser, was not with her in the juvenile interview room.
But Taylor did testify that he was seated outside the room.
On March 23, the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Patrick’s death a homicide from methamphetamine poisoning.
Lerch was living at the St. Leger home, in the Goodyear Heights neighborhood, with her son, her 19-year-old boyfriend, Randy Legg, his older brother and another man at the time of the child’s death.
The other three men also are awaiting trials in connection with the death.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.