Progress Staff Writer

PAULDING – A plea deal was the unexpected conclusion of a two-day trial of a Grover Hill man accused of murder in the death of his infant son.

Tristen A. Blair, age 20, was arrested in October 2017 and charged with murder, an unclassified felony, for the death of his 3-month-old son, Zyathen.

Thursday afternoon, after both the prosecution and defense rested their cases in Paulding County Common Pleas Court, Blair pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of reckless homicide. Sentencing is set for Jan. 14.

The jury was seated Tuesday, and opening statements heard Wednesday morning. Prosecutor Joseph Burkard rested his case Wednesday afternoon.

The second day of testimony began with defense attorney Danny Hill presenting his case.

First to take the stand for the defense was Blair’s mother, Carla Blair. Tears gently fell down her cheeks as she talked about her evening playdates and bath time with her grandson, Zyathen.

Carla told the jury how Tristen cared for the infant and everything he did to attend to the baby’s needs.

She also recounted an incident when Tristen was about 16 years old and severely injured his left arm during a minor altercation. Extensive damage was done to the muscles and nerves in his arm, causing him to lose some use of that limb.

She talked about the events of that fateful day in question when Zyathen was found unresponsive, and the anguish she felt in the infant’s passing.

Also called to the stand were Tristen’s sisters, Bethany and Kayla. Both echoed the sentiments of their mother, and the care their brother showed towards Zyathen.

They also talked about the tumultuous relationship between Tristen and his then-girlfriend – and Zyathen’s mother –Destiny Brooks. It was noted by the sisters and mother that the couple frequently argued and the threats of ending the relationship were constant.

Hill repeated questions with all the family members who took the stand, asking about the care that Tristen gave to the baby, who Zyathen’s main caregiver was, the relationship between Brooks and Blair, Blair’s temper and how he reacted when he was upset, and the injury to Tristen’s arm.

The final witness for the defense was Tristen himself.

On the stand, he recounted the chain of events on the day he found his son unresponsive. He talked about how he never left Zyathen’s side during the five-day stay in the pediatric ICU at Lutheran Hospital. Tristen also stated he went willingly to the sheriff’s office to meet with investigators.

By mid-morning, the defense rested its case.

The jury of nine men and four women were dismissed, then additional testimony was heard from Blair’s sister, Kayla. Kayla testified about a possible hereditary link between Zyathen’s brain hemorrhage and the brain hemorrhage her son was born with. It was decided that since Kayla was not an accredited witness to testify about genetic and medical information, the jury would not be allowed to hear her testimony on the matter.

After a short break, court was on the record again without the jury present. As he did Wednesday afternoon, Hill called for an acquittal due to the prosecution failing to show Blair intentionally caused the fatal harm to his child. Judge Tiffany Beckman denied the motion. Another short recess was called.

The short recess turned into a much longer break and court returned to session again over an hour later.

The lawyers and family members had met during the break and reached an agreement. During the break, Burkard had filed a bill of information, charging Blair with reckless homicide (F3) in the death of Zyathen Blair. The document alleged that Blair “did recklessly cause the death of another.”

A bill of information is agreed upon by the lawyers to bring forth charges against a defendant by skipping the grand jury step.

Blair pleaded no contest to the reckless homicide charge.

In addition to a charge related to the death of Zyathen, Blair had pending charges for burglary (F2) and theft (F4), stemming from an incident in August 2017; and vandalism (F5) and escape (F3) from an incident in May of this year.

As part of the deal agreed upon by both sides, Blair further pleaded guilty to burglary (F2). The charges for theft (F4), vandalism (F5) and escape (F3) were dropped.

The penalty for reckless homicide is up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Burglary carries a two to eight year prison sentence with fines up to $15,000.

Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 14, when it will be decided then how long Blair will spend in prison and if the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively.

Hill then made a motion to release Blair on a recognizance bond due to the charges being significantly lowered and the fact that he has been incarcerated for 14 months. Burkard argued that the $1 million bond previously set for this case was appropriate.

Judge Beckman decided that bond should be lowered to $250,000, reflecting the change in charges, but was not willing to grant the recognizance bond.

The jury was then brought back in to be informed of the events that had transpired were dismissed from service. Several jurors looked relieved as Judge Beckman told them their services were no longer needed.

As the small crowd of people shuffled out of the courtroom, a mix of emotions could be felt in the air, ranging from relief to anger. For most, the outcome was not what was expected or hoped for. But it was evident that everyone was feeling the impact of the loss of a young child named Zyathen.