By Ed Meyer, Akron Beacon Journal –
AKRON, Ohio — Patrick Nicholas Lerch spent the last weeks of his short life in the rat-infested basement of a home in the Goodyear Heights neighborhood of Akron.
The amount of meth he ingested was so lethal and the response of his supposed caregivers so inadequate, the 17-month-old boy was dead for two hours when patrol officers and an emergency squad responded to a call that he was not breathing.
On Tuesday, three of the four defendants responsible for Patrick’s death in what prosecutors called a “chamber of horrors” received lengthy prison sentences.
Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker gave the harshest sentence to Ronald Scott Legg, 22, who, according to court testimony, stuffed a coffee filter saturated with meth inside the child’s mouth.
Legg was sentenced to life in prison without consideration for parole until he serves 27 years. He pleaded guilty last week to the crimes of murder, child endangering and illegal manufacturing of drugs.
“I hope to have the opportunity to serve on this bench for many more years,” Parker told Legg, “and I can’t imagine that I will ever encounter an illegal manufacturing case that will be more serious than this one.”
Patrick’s mother, Heather M. Lerch, 21, was sentenced to life without parole consideration for 22 years. She was convicted in a jury trial last month of murder, involuntary manslaughter and multiple charges of child endangering.
Allen Kostra, 25, who testified that he and Legg used meth at the house virtually the entire weekend leading up to Patrick’s death, was given nine years for his guilty pleas to involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
Parker said Kostra will be eligible for judicial review of his case after five years but gave him no assurances he should anticipate being released at that point.
Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Peacock said it was Kostra who first cooperated with authorities and told the truth about how Patrick was exposed to the drug in his sleeping quarters in the basement.
The final defendant, Randy L. Legg, 20, who was Lerch’s boyfriend at the time of Patrick’s death, is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 23 in Parker’s court. He pleaded guilty last week to one count of involuntary manslaughter and a felony drug charge.
Patrick’s family members, along with Kostra’s mother, filled the two benches in the courtroom’s public gallery.
Many wept as Kimberly Clark of Barberton, Ohio, read her victim-impact statements.
Clark, whose mother and Lerch’s mother are cousins, said in an Akron Beacon Journal interview early this year that she and her husband took in Heather and Patrick Lerch over the Christmas holidays after the two had been living in a homeless shelter.
In the three months the families lived together, Kimberly Clark was Patrick’s primary caregiver, she said.
She told the court that Heather Lerch left Patrick to be with Randy Legg at the Goodyear Heights home on the Monday before Valentine’s Day.
Speaking first to Ronald Legg, Clark said she and her husband will attend his parole hearings to ensure he never is released from prison because of what he did to Patrick.
“He didn’t ask for this. He didn’t ask to be down in that basement to be tortured by rats. He was a beautiful, beautiful, happy child when he left my house. He was full of life, and you took it away from him. I don’t see how you can live with yourself,” Clark said.
When Ronald Legg addressed the court, he said he was “very sorry” for what he called his “unfortunate actions,” saying he let his drug problem “get out of control.”
While he did not deny his responsibility, he lashed out at the media for being “inaccurate” and making his brother and Lerch “look worser than they should. My brother is innocent,” Legg said, “and I’d like him to be left alone and have the chance with Heather to mourn and pick up the pieces of their lives.”
He concluded by saying: “I wish the newspaper and other media would let Patrick rest in peace and let me and my family alone,” again saying he was “very, very sorry.”
When Parker asked Lerch if she had anything to say, she shook her head no. Any other response she might have made was inaudible.
Lerch stood before the bench at the hearing with a blank look on her face from beginning to end. Her convictions and sentence will be appealed, attorney Brian Pierce said.
Clark’s statement included reading a letter from Patrick’s grandmother and father, who live in the Carolinas. Her voice cracked with nearly every word.
In the father’s letter to Lerch, he said he will never see Patrick’s first day of school, the loss of his first tooth, his first date or his excitement at going to the prom.
“He will never come and say, ‘Dad, I’m getting married,’ or, ‘Dad, you’re going to be a grandpa.’ I don’t think any of those things were important to you,” the letter said, “but they were important to me.”