Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Van Wert
from Van Wert County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No.
Michael J. Short for Appellant
J. Rauch for Appellee
Defendant-appellant, Christopher Peters ("Peters"),
brings this appeal from the October 23, 2017, judgment of the
Van Wert County Common Pleas Court sentencing him to serve
life in prison without parole after Peters was convicted by a
jury of Aggravated Murder in violation of R.C. 2903.01(C), an
unspecified felony, Felonious Assault in violation of R.C.
2903.11(A)(1), a second degree felony, and Endangering
Children in violation of R.C. 2919.22(B)(1)/(E)(1)(d), a
second degree felony. On appeal, Peters argues that his
convictions were against the manifest weight of the evidence
and that the trial court erred by failing to merge the
Aggravated Murder conviction with the Felonious Assault
conviction for purposes of sentencing.
Facts and Procedural History
On November 28, 2016, Peters was indicted for Aggravated
Murder in violation of R.C. 2903.01(C), an unspecified
felony, Murder in violation of R.C. 2903.02(A), an
unspecified felony, Felonious Assault in violation of R.C.
2903.11(A)(1), a felony of the second degree, and Endangering
Children in violation of R.C. 2919.22(B)(1), a felony of the
second degree. The Aggravated Murder charge carried a death
penalty specification, but that specification was later
dismissed. The charge of Murder in violation of R.C.
2903.02(A) was also later dismissed. The charges essentially
alleged that Peters beat 15-month old H.R. to death. H.R. was
the son of Peters' girlfriend, Valarie Dean. Peters pled
not guilty to the charges.
Peters' case proceeded to a jury trial, which was held
September 18, 2017, to September 22, 2017. At trial, the
State called 15 witnesses and introduced over 65 exhibits
then rested its case. Amongst the evidence introduced was a
coroner's report indicating that H.R. died of blunt force
injuries to the chest and abdomen due to a beating. Evidence
presented also indicated that Peters was taking care of H.R.
while Valarie was at work during the time of the likely cause
of death. Other circumstantial evidence was introduced,
linking Peters to the crime, including a statement Peters
made to another inmate saying he should just go to court and
ask for the death penalty because he could not live with what
he had done.
Peters called three witnesses on his own behalf and
introduced a number of exhibits into evidence. His defense
focused largely on H.R. having a "toxic" level of
Benadryl in his system, which he contended caused H.R.'s
death. He also pointed to Valarie Dean's failings as a
mother, and her opportunity alone with H.R. wherein she could
have caused H.R.'s death. Nevertheless, Peters argued
that even if H.R. did die of a beating, there were no
witnesses establishing that it was Peters who had done the
beating and there was no direct evidence of his involvement.
After the evidence was presented, the jury was given
instructions, which included requested instructions on the
lesser-included offenses of Murder and Involuntary
Manslaughter for the Aggravated Murder charge. However, the
jury found Peters guilty of all three counts in the
indictment: Aggravated Murder, Felonious Assault, and
On October 23, 2017, Peters' case proceeded to
sentencing. Peters was ordered to serve life in prison
without parole on the Aggravated Murder conviction, 8 years
in prison on the Felonious Assault conviction, and 8 years in
prison on the Endangering Children conviction. The trial
court found that none of the sentences merged and then
ordered all of the prison terms to be served consecutively. A
judgment entry memorializing Peters' sentence was filed
October 23, 2017. It is from this judgment that Peters
appeals, asserting the following assignments of error for our
of Error No. 1 The convictions are against the manifest
weight of the evidence.
of Error No. 2 The trial court erred in failing to merge the
aggravated murder and felonious assault charges for
Assignment of Error
In Peters' first assignment of error he argues that his
convictions were against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Specifically, he contends that there was a period of time
wherein Valarie Dean, H.R.'s mother, was alone with H.R.
and that she could have beaten H.R. or administered a lethal
dose of Benadryl to him. Peters argues that there were no
witnesses testifying that he did anything to H.R. and that
all evidence presented was circumstantial. Peters contends
that the State's case did not amount to proof beyond a
In reviewing whether a defendant's conviction was against
the manifest weight of the evidence, the appellate court sits
as a "thirteenth juror" and examines the
conflicting testimony. State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio
St.3d 380, 387 (1997). In doing so, this Court must review
the entire record, weigh the evidence and all of the
reasonable inferences, consider the credibility of witnesses,
and determine whether in resolving conflicts in the evidence,
the factfinder "clearly lost its way and created such a
manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be
reversed and a new trial ordered." Thompkins at
Courts have held that judgments should be reversed as against
the manifest weight of the evidence " 'only in the
exceptional case in which the evidence weighs heavily
against the conviction.' " (Emphasis added.)
Id. quoting State v. Martin, 20 Ohio App.3d
172, 175 (1983). Furthermore, "[t]o reverse a judgment
of a trial court on the weight of the evidence, when the
judgment results from a trial by jury, a unanimous
concurrence of all three judges on the court of appeals panel
reviewing the case is required." Thompkins at
paragraph 4 of the syllabus; Ohio Constitution, Article IV,
In this case Peters was convicted of Aggravated Murder in
violation of R.C. 2903.01(C), Felonious Assault in violation
of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1) and Endangering Children in violation
of R.C. 2919.22(B)(1). Aggravated Murder, in violation of
R.C. 2903.01(C), reads, "No person shall purposely cause
the death of another who is under thirteen years of age at
the time of the commission of the offense."
Felonious Assault, in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1), reads,
"No person shall knowingly * * * [c]ause serious
physical harm to another[.]"
Child Endangering in violation of R.C. 2919.22(B)(1) reads,
"No person shall do any of the following to a child
under eighteen years of age * * * (1) Abuse the
Presented at Trial
Testimony at trial established that Peters, his girlfriend
Valarie Dean, and Valarie Dean's 15-month old child H.R.
lived in an apartment at the Old Lincoln Inn in the city of
Delphos, Van Wert County, Ohio. The residence was formerly a
motel but had been converted to apartment units.
On November 14, 2016, Valarie left the residence at around
8:30 p.m. to go to her job at Whirlpool in Findlay, Ohio.
Peters remained at the residence with the intention of caring
for H.R., who had a cold. Peters was not otherwise employed
at that time.
Valarie clocked in at work at 9:54 p.m., and she intended to
return home after her shift. Peters had told Valarie that he
had to help a friend, "George, " move materials in
the morning near the end of her shift, so he was going to
have to leave slightly before Valarie got home. Thus the plan was
to leave H.R. alone at the residence, but for a short time.