ELYRIA — Jacob Champion was found not guilty on all counts in the rape trial in which he was accused of sodomizing a 17-month-old boy with an object that may have been a small souvenir baseball bat.
Testimony in the bench trial of Champion, 26, of Lorain, concluded Thursday afternoon. After closing arguments, Judge John Miraldi rendered his verdict after close to 45 minutes of deliberation.
Champion had faced two first-degree felony counts of rape, a second-degree felony count of felonious assault and a third-degree felony count of endangering children. Champion waived his right to a jury trial and elected to have a bench trial in which Miraldi would be the sole trier of fact.
“In a criminal case, proof that establishes possibility is not enough,” Miraldi said as he rendered his verdict. “In a criminal case, proof that establishes probability is not enough. Why? Because in a criminal case a person’s liberty, a person’s freedom, is at stake. In this case, the evidence presented by the state of Ohio was not sufficient to firmly convince the trier of fact of each and every element of the crimes charged. … As a result, the court finds the defendant not guilty.”
Champion’s defense attorney, Brian Darling, said that police had locked on to his client as the only one who could have committed the crime and then tried to work the evidence around him in their case. The result, Darling said, was a case that wasn’t effective in proving Champion’s guilt.
“I think this case, the way the state presented it, was a lot of noise but not really finding the signal of what exactly happened and when it happened,” Darling said during closing arguments. “I’m sorry to hear that the state is disregarding what appears to be evidence of a consistent pattern of abuse of this poor kid. It was abuse as testified by (the child’s paternal grandmother).”
The grandmother testified during the trial that she had been concerned about bruises and marks on the child, including multiple bite marks. She’d shown the child’s doctor the photos and also had forwarded them to police after they began investigating the rape allegations.
Assistant County Prosecutor Pete Gauthier said the state wasn’t disregarding those allegations, but this case was focusing on the incident that allegedly occurred between Aug.1 and Aug. 2016. By doing that, Gauthier said, it allowed investigators to shrink the pool of possible suspects to just three people: Champion, the child’s mother and the child’s then-7-year-old sister.
Gauthier then ticked through the three people, starting with the mother.
“Clearly, she’s never going to win a contest for mother of the year,” he said. “I hope she doesn’t see this in the paper tomorrow, but I’m sorry, she’s a horrible mother. She smoked pot every single day while there were kids in the house.”
Despite those facts, Gauthier said, he still didn’t believe the mother was the one who raped the child since she took him to the hospital immediately after finding him in a diaper soaked in blood along with his onesie and crib sheet.
“These are not the actions of a person who would do something like this,” Gauthier said. “‘Yes, I’m going to insert a bat-sized object into my child’s anus, and then because I’m stupid, I’m going to take him directly to the hospital.’ You don’t harm your child and then call your doctor and go immediately to the hospital.”
The 7-year-old sister would not have been strong enough to cause the injuries the 17-month-old child suffered, Gauthier said. He also pointed out the two children have been living with their paternal grandmother since the incident and the boy has had no further issues.
Gauthier said Champion had made it clear that he didn’t get along with the child. It was also testified that the child looked just like his father, who was shot and killed close to a year and a half earlier. The child’s mother had called the child’s father “her first love” and Champion had gotten upset that she hadn’t gotten over the other man.
The paternal grandmother and her husband have been granted permanent custody of the children. While the mother of the children has visitation rights with her daughter, she has not seen or had contact with her son since September 2016.
The mother also was charged in the case with endangering children, but prosecutors have said that those charges would be dismissed after she testified against Champion, which she did.