Columbus mother charged in death of toddler son pleads not guilty

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Just weeks ago, officials say Tina Dayton was in Florida, alternating between sleeping in a tent in someone's backyard and in a car behind a Walmart.

On Friday, she appeared in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to face charges that she murdered her son.

Last October, first responders were called to her home off Refugee Road for a child reported to be barely breathing with a broken arm.

Clifford "Jace" Stark III was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead the next day. A coroner's report and autopsy later revealed he had severe internal injuries, including a lacerated liver, and had died from multiple blunt force trauma.

After his death was ruled a homicide, an arrest warrant was issued for Dayton. Authorities located her in Florida on March 30, and she was later extradited back to Ohio.

A grand jury then indicted her on two charges - murder and endangering children.

"Typically the mother in this instance is not ordinarily charged with the murder herself," said Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O'Brien. "It’s the male friend of the mother, be it a parent, stepparent or boyfriend, and the mother ends up being charged with endangering children, so it is rare that a mother actually be charged with murdering her own child."

On Friday, Dayton was arraigned in Franklin County Common Pleas Court via video. She pleaded not guilty, and a judge ordered a $2 million bond.

O'Brien says prosecutors asked for a high bond based on the seriousness of the charges and the fact that she was found in Florida.

He also discussed Dayton's history as a mother. 10TV confirmed with Franklin County Children Services that Jace and his siblings had previously been removed from the home. They were returned roughly five months before his death.

"It’s too bad that the child had been returned to the home, and we don’t have a crystal ball, and the court doesn’t have a crystal ball that this was going to happen, but in retrospect, I wish the child had not been returned to the home," O'Brien said.

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