SYCAMORE – Members of Ryker Newhouse's family sniffled and tried to muffle sobs as DeKalb County Judge Philip Montgomery spoke about testimony in the aggravated child battery case against Katie Petrie.
As Montgomery led up to his verdict, the east side of the courtroom became restless. Sobs came forth. When he ruled that Petrie was guilty, wailing ensued. Family members clapped, shrieked, hugged, and thanked God.
"We can finally heal," Ryker's mother, Jennifer Newhouse, Ryker's mother, said outside the courtroom. "We may have gotten the verdict we wanted in this case, but there are no winners. I hurt for Katie Petrie, and her kids."
Petrie, 36, now of DeKalb, faces six to 30 years in prison, and must serve 85 percent of that sentence, which Montgomery will hand down Feb. 1. Petrie cried as she looked back at her family before being led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Petrie waived her right to a jury trial, putting the case in the hands of Judge Montgomery. In explaining his verdict, he addressed every witness' testimony, including that of Rockford-based neurologist Todd Alexander, who performed surgery on then-six-month-old Ryker after his injury Dec. 15, 2015 in Petrie's then-home and day care in Cortland.
Montgomery said he didn't believe testimony from Baltimore child neurologist Joseph Scheller, the defense's expert witness. Scheller testified on Monday that Ryker could have been injured days before Petrie called 911 to report the child was having a seizure.
"I found his testimony incredible," Montgomery said.
On Sunday night, Dec. 13, 2015, after a weekend in Chicago with his parents, Ryker had recovered from a cold, as shown by a video prosecutors played for the court on Nov. 14, 2018.
"It shows Ryker smiling, laughing and giggling and kicking his legs as Mrs. Newhouse tickles him," Montgomery said.
On Dec. 15, 2015, Ryker napped, ate his food, and was generally fine, Petrie had told investigators. She said he suddenly threw up, she went to grab wipes, and when she returned, he was having a seizure.
Ryker was flown to Rockford, where Alexander had to remove the top half of Ryker's skull, as Montgomery referenced, to help relieve the infant's hematoma. Montgomery said that half of the skull was first put back on in January 2016.
Ryker is developmentally delayed. His speech is about a year behind. He wears eyeglasses, becasue vision in one of his eyes is severely impaired. He might never have full command of his right arm. He limps, and has a scar on his head.
Ryker's father, Eric Newhouse, has a tattoo on his right forearm with his son's name, and a Superman symbol.
"He wasn't supposed to live through the night, but he did, because he's Superman," Eric Newhouse said. "You might look up to your dad or your role models. I look up to my son."
The trial was delayed many times, as Buh tried to line up his expert witness.
"It's been agonizing – every day, and every court date when you think something's going to happen, and you continue to get let down," Jennifer Newhouse said.
She said now that the family has closure, and can celebrate Christmas, the next step is advocating in such cases.
"My ultimate goal since this happened has been to spread awareness of child abuse and shaken babies, but I've been somewhat limited because of the trial," Jennifer Newhouse said. "We can finally get out there and advocate that this doesn't happen to other kids, because it's preventable. You put the baby down, and you walk away. That's it."
Eric Newhouse said they haven't formed a plan just yet, as to how exactly they'll get the word out.
"We've been living for three years in a black cloud," he said.
He said he knows of two other children who were abused by Petrie.
"There's two other kids who fell through the cracks with Petrie," Eric Newhouse said, "and it feels like his justice, his injuries, was justice for those other two."