The father of an Effingham County baby still recovering from suspected child abuse in a Savannah hospital was denied bond and his case was bound over to the grand jury Thursday morning.
Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Judge Gates Peed denied bond for Phillip Waller, 20, whose son Aiden Waller was flown to Memorial Medical Center Health University in January after receiving traumatic injuries. Effingham County sheriff’s investigators said those injuries were the result of abuse from Aiden’s mother, Tina Richards.
Earlier this month, Peed sentenced Richards to 21 years in jail for violating her probation on a previous incident involving her infant son.
Waller faced a bond hearing and a preliminary hearing on charges of cruelty to children and obstruction.
“These are injuries over a significant period of time,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Muldrew said. “He knew about these injuries.
“Plenty of blame can be spread around here. But the ultimate responsibility is with the parents.”
Richards was arrested the day after Aiden, then 10 months old was airlifted to Memorial, and charged with two counts of cruelty to children, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Waller was taken into custody a week later.
Defense attorney Steven Yekel said there was no proof of cruelty to children in either the first or second degree and if Waller was guilty of anything, it was by omission, not by commission. Yekel said Waller accepted Richards’ explanations for the bruises and marks on their son.
“He took what Ms. Richards said as being truthful,” Yekel said. “It was reasonable that he fell out of the Jolly Jumper or off the couch.”
Yekel countered that Waller only got to see his son at night and on weekends.
“He only got a little bit of time to spend with him,” he said. “He couldn’t fathom that anyone would hurt the child. There is no proof this young man did anything.”
Yekel said it began to add up for Waller on Jan. 5.
“He realized this was something he couldn’t explain,” he said.
Sheriff’s investigator Heath Galloway said Aiden Waller suffered traumatic head injuries and had bite marks and bruises all over his body when he was flown to the hospital.
Bite marks were noted on the baby’s left forearm, right instep, buttocks and on the underside of the penis, Galloway said.
In an initial interview with investigators, Galloway said Waller informed investigators he didn’t notice any of the marks said the child often bit himself. Galloway said the bite marks appeared to be that of an adult with a full-sized mouth.
Dr. Steven Aycock, a dentist, told investigators two bite marks were consistent with Tina Richards’ bite pattern. The bite mark on the left forearm was probably caused by Richards, he said, and the one on the right instep was very likely caused by Richards.
During a Jan. 29 session with investigators, Waller said he noticed the bruising on the child’s penis, according to Galloway.
“He didn’t believe Tina’s explanation,” he said. “He had noticed the bite marks and bruises but did not report them because he did not want to lose custody of the child again.”
Defense witnesses said Waller was a working father, often away from home on the job for 10-12 hours a day, who loved his baby son. Waller worked at Jenkins Plumbing in South Carolina, getting rides from a friend to Port Wentworth, where he got another ride to work since he didn’t have a car.
“I know him as a better person than this whole situation has portrayed him as,” said Steven K. Richards, Tina’s 17-year-old brother.
Steven Richards said Phillip Waller was “fine” with Aiden when he saw the two interact.
“You don’t think he would ever hurt Aiden, do you,” Yekel asked.
“No,” Richards replied.
Joshua Lewis, 21, who said he has known Waller for several years, also testified that Waller doted on his son.
“He loves his baby boy. That’s his baby boy, and he loves him with all his heart,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Waller, Tina Richards and the baby were living in a trailer with nearly a half-dozen other people when Aiden was removed from their custody by the Department of Family and Children Services.
“That was not a good environment for a child, was it?” Muldrew asked.
“No, it was not,” Lewis said.
Waller and Richards moved into their own place in early December, and it was there investigators say they found a child’s onesy sewn into a crib sheet and ropes fashioned to restrain a child’s feet. Defense witnesses said they never saw the onesy nor the ropes.
Galloway said there was evidence of the onesy, the tie downs and a lack of baby food and baby care items at the house.
Waller expressed his concerns about Aiden and Tina to a friend, but when Sandra Wyman went to confront Tina about
“Tina always had an answer,” she said. “We had no reason not to believe her.”
Wyman said she twice went by the couple’s trailer subsequently to talk to Richards but didn’t get an answer.
Richards, who gave birth to another son two weeks ago, is incarcerated at Metro State Prison in Atlanta. She could be in prison until Aug. 27, 2028.
Aiden Waller will celebrate his first birthday March 26.