Mother of Toddler Allegedly Beaten to Death Testifies Against Boy's Grandfather
The jury heard disturbing testimony on day two of the Peter Draper trial in Adams County Tuesday as the prosecution called some of its first witnesses to the stand.
Draper, 47, of Naponee, Neb., is one of three family members charged in the case for the alleged child abuse death of his grandson, 2–year–old Joseph Rinehart Junior, known to family simply as "Junior."
The boy's mother, 25-year-old Laura Rinehart, and grandmother, 47-year-old Nancy Draper, are also charged in the case.
The courtroom was shown graphic photos of Junior's dead body Tuesday, covered in cuts and bruises. The prosecution alleges Peter Draper beat him to death last April. The defense, however, claims that Peter Draper disciplined his grandson, but is not responsible for his death.
"He was very happy, he was smiling all the time," paternal grandmother Heidi Rinehart said at the courthouse Tuesday. "He was just a good little boy."
Autopsy results show he died of blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen.
An emotional Laura Rinehart testified Tuesday that when she and her husband separated in 2011, her father – Peter Draper – became the main disciplinarian to her four small kids, and that she witnessed him abuse Junior on a regular basis, saying she didn't think it was right, but was too scared of her father to do anything about it.
She told the courtroom Draper criticized the way she disciplined her children, and that he said she needed to "show them who's boss."
She also said Draper repeatedly forcefully grabbed Junior by his arm and jerked him around, and when he thought the toddler was misbehaving he would force him to lift three- to five-pound hand weights above his head for up to ten minutes at a time. And if Junior dropped them, he had to start over.
Peter Draper also allegedly made the boy stand in the corner for up to eight hours at a time, only allowing him to leave to eat and have his diaper changed. And if he cried, Laura Rinehart says, her father would shove him to the ground, causing him to hit his head on the hard linoleum floor.
Draper even made the boy sleep in a closet, she testified.
Graphic photos of Junior's body from the night of his death show the toddler covered in bruises and cuts from head to toe.
Family members in the courtroom say they were horrified to see those images.
"It doesn't look like Junior at all," Heidi Rinehart said. "I'm used to Junior as being healthy, heavy, stocky...When I saw those pictures, there was hardly nothing to him. And to see all those marks – I just can't believe people would do that to a little 2–year–old."
During cross–examination, the defense gave several other theories for Junior's injuries, arguing that his brother – who was one year older than him at the time – was aggressive and could have caused them.
But Laura Rinehart said though she did have to seek professional help from a therapist for her other son because of his constant tantrums, she never witnessed him hurting Junior.
The defense also suggested that Junior had a suspected disease that caused his bones to become brittle and fracture easily, but testimony Tuesday from two different doctors who treated the boy refuted that claim.
Dr. Steven Coy Haskett, a pediatrician at the Kearney Clinic, who treated Junior when he was brought in with a fractured leg – which Laura Rinehart claimed Tuesday was caused by Peter Draper – testified that, to his knowledge, Junior was never diagnosed with a bone disease.
Heidi Rinehart says she knows Draper killed her grandson, and wants to see justice served.
"Same thing he did to Junior I want to see happen to him," she said. "I don't want him to get fried, I don't want anybody to kill him right away. I want him to suffer for what he did to Junior. Just like Junior suffered, he needs to suffer."
In all, it was a nearly nine–hour day of testimony for the prosecution, but they're not finished yet. They say they expect to continue calling witnesses through Thursday.
Laura Rinehart and Peter and Nancy Draper have been in custody since April of 2012.
In exchange for Laura Rinehart's testimony against her parents, prosecutors agreed to reduce her charge from intentional child abuse resulting in death to attempted child abuse. If convicted, she faces up to 50 years in prison.
The Drapers are each charged with intentional child abuse resulting in death, and face 20 years to life in prison.Nancy Draper's trial is scheduled to begin June 17. A trial date for Laura Rinehart hasn't been set.