Patrick Nicholas Lerch’s nursery was inside a dingy, dark, reeking meth house, with fish sticks, chicken wings and drugs all around.
The malnourished toddler’s last days were spent in squalor inside an Akron home that a prosecutor called a “chamber of horrors.” His baby sitters included a meth head and his meth cook, the prosecutor said.
Still, the child’s Feb. 26 death came from an alarming cause: Patrick, 17 months old, had ingested a heavy dose of meth — five times an amount that would kill an adult.
And where was his mother?
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Greg Peacock said Heather Lerch “stopped being a mother” and essentially dumped him with two druggies who were busy making and using meth.
Lerch, on trial in her son’s homicide, “absconded all her responsibilities as a mother and recklessly and willingly put her child in grave danger,” Peacock told a jury Wednesday in his opening statement. “Her conduct was not only abusive, it was cruel.
“She handed her child over to a meth cook and just let him stay there.”
Lerch, 21, dressed in all black with her long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, didn’t look at Peacock or his PowerPoint presentation shown to the jury. Instead, the Akron woman kept her back to the screen, her eyes downcast, pausing occasionally to dab tears.
She maintained the same pose as her defense attorney, Brian Pierce, spoke to jurors on her behalf. He conceded that Lerch initially lied to police about her son’s last hours, claiming he was fine just minutes before she found him unresponsive in his crib.
Police say the boy was underweight and abused. His body was found with bruises on his face, arms and legs.
Prosecutors contend Patrick was dead for hours before 911 was called. They are unsure how the boy came to ingest the large amount of methamphetamine found in his blood and urine. Once the test results came out, weeks after his death, county pathologists determined he died from an overdose of meth.
Pierce told jurors that while Lerch made mistakes as a mother, those truly responsible are the two men who were making meth in the basement: co-defendants Ronald Legg, 22, and Allen Kostra, 25.
Kostra has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and is expected to testify against Lerch.
Lerch moved into the St. Leger Avenue home in early February to live with her boyfriend, Randy Legg, 19, the fourth defendant in the state’s case. Only Lerch is on trial this week.
The boy was in the Goodyear Heights house with Kostra, a reputed drug user, and Ronald Legg, who prosecutors say cooked and used meth nonstop that weekend.
Police investigating the child’s death found the meth lab and the squalor.
Pierce said Lerch was “naive, young and made some poor decisions,” but that does not make her responsible for her son’s death.
She is charged in an indictment containing charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangering.
Pierce reminded the panel that Summit County Children’s Services visited Lerch 10 days before the boy’s death and noted no problems.
“Somebody murdered that child. But that person is not Heather Lerch,” Pierce told the six-man, six-woman jury in Judge Tom Parker’s courtroom.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.