Tristen Blair (left) and his late son, Zyathen.
Tristen Blair (left) and his late son, Zyathen.
By JENNIFER DEMPSEY

Progress Staff Writer

PAULDING – Opening statements were given in the Tristen A. Blair murder trial in Paulding County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Blair has been jailed since his arrest on Oct. 26, 2017, in connection with the death of his 3-month-old son. The indictment alleges Blair “did cause the death of Zyathen Blair, as a proximate result of the offender committing or attempting to commit a violation of 2903.11(A)(1) [felonious assault].”

The jury was selected on Dec. 18 and is majority made up of males. It is made up of 12 jurors with one alternate.

Blair, 20, was present wearing a button-up blue and white striped shirt and khaki pants. His hair had been cut short.

Prosecutor Joseph Burkard gave his opening statement to the jury first. He shared information on the living situation of Blair and girlfriend at the time, Destiny Brooks, and baby Zyathen.

Burkard then went into detail about the day in question when Zyathen was found unresponsive and rushed to a local hospital.

He talked about the autopsy results and how it showed that Zyathen suffered from blunt force trauma to the head.

Burkard ended his opening statement by telling the jury that Blair was angry at everything and angry at the world, which was why this tragic event happened.

The attorney for Blair, Danny Hill, then approached the jury and told then that this trial was not about whether Blair caused this event, but if he knowingly caused this to happen.

Hill talked about how Blair loved Zyathen with everything he had and took care of the baby every day. He also washed bottles, did laundry and bathed the infant. Meanwhile, the baby’s mother, Destiny Brooks, did none of that.

He told the jury how Blair said over and over again during the interrogation that he never meant to hurt the baby.

Hill stated, “This was a horrible accident and he didn’t do it on purpose.

“It is just an accident. It’s not murder,” Hill said in closing.

The prosecution called a total of eight witnesses to the stand during the day.

Zyathen’s mother, Destiny Brooks, was second to testify. She told the jury about the events leading up to the infant’s death and the what happened the day of the 911 call.

Another witness called was Chris Howe, a Paulding County Sheriff’s Deputy and volunteer firefighter for Grover Hill. Howe was first on the scene when Grover Hill EMS was called out and he performed CPR until the EMS arrived on scene.

Brion Hanenkratt, investigator for the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office, took the stand to testify about his interviews with Blair. The interrogation video was then shown in the courtroom.

The interview and interrogation video lasted over two hours. It showed Blair recounting his memory of the events from that day.

Part way through the interview, Blair was informed that the injuries to Zyathen were thought to have been caused by his actions. It appeared that Blair had not thought about that and was shaken by the thought he had caused the death.

The prosecution’s last witness was the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Zyathen at St. Joe Hospital in Fort Wayne.

The pathologist shared that he first did an external examination to look for obvious signs of trauma. He then proceeded to do an internal exam.

He presented pictures from the autopsy that showed the subdural hemorrhaging that was reported as the cause of death.

Many jurors were unable to look at the graphic pictures taken during the autopsy.

The pathologist testified the death was caused by multiple blunt force inflicted trauma.

Also, it was presented that optic nerve hemorrhaging had occurred.

It was noted that these injuries were not consistent with a baby falling off of a bed or being dropped. These injuries were believed to be caused by repeated impact caused by acceleration then sudden stopping, consistent with being hit against something or being struck with an object.

The prosecution then rested its case.

On Thursday, Dec. 20, the defense will present its case to the jury. They are planning to present testimony from members of the Blair family in addition to Tristen Blair taking the stand.

Prior to jury selection, Burkard made a motion to strike the single word “purposely” from the original grand jury indictment, which stated, “Tristen A. Blair did purposely cause the death....” Burkard argued that “the surplus language in the indictment, ‘purposely,” does not effect the character of the charge.”

In addition, Hill made a motion requesting the judge issue an order that no witness may testify nor any evidence be presented to the jury regarding any alleged abuse and/or domestic violence between Tristan Blair and Destiny Brooks.

Judge Tiffany Beckman approved both motions.

The trial has been scheduled to continue through Friday; however, at the present pace, it may conclude earlier than expected.