Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.
Police and prosecutors still have not solved the 2019 murder of former Delaware banking executive Benjamin Ledyard’s second wife, but on Friday, a judge sentenced him to two years behind bars for battering his third wife and using what a prosecutor called “enough force to cause a gaping wound that exposed her skull.”
Superior Court Judge Danielle Brennan put Ledyard, 56, into prison for the crime of felony second-degree assault against Stephanie Ledyard on New Year’s Day.
The judge said she took into consideration the prosecutor’s memo that documented several prior acts of violence against Stephanie Ledyard that sent her to the hospital more than once.
Yet both Ledyards, who married in September 2021, cried openly in court as they beseeched the judge to give him a sentence of only probation.
“Please don’t incarcerate him. I beg you, I beg you,’’ Stephanie Ledyard, 55, said. “Please give us a chance. I forgive him. I believe God forgives him. If I forgive him, why can’t anybody else?”
Benjamin Ledyard, a former investment consultant with Wilmington Trust and Bank of America, told the judge his alcoholism fueled the attack, said he’s received treatment and is committed to being sober and non-violent.
“I’m so sorry for what I did to her,’’ he told the judge. “Please, please don’t send me to jail, I’ll do anything you ask.”
Benjamin Ledyard’s attorney, Peter Veith, also asked for probation, but told Brennan he expected her to order some prison time for the indefensible New Year’s Day attack. Veith said his client had been offered a job and wanted to support his family and stay sober, but that if he went to prison, the couple would likely lose their home to foreclosure.
Benjamin Ledyard had pleaded guilty in August to the January 1 attack. That was part of a plea deal in which prosecutors dropped charges of terroristic threatening and menacing in that beating, and of first-degree assault from an attack in the summer of 2022, during which she told police he bit off the tip of her finger and told her he probably swallowed it.
Prosecutor Jenna Milecki asked the judge to give Benjamin Ledyard three years behind bars. Second-degree assault is a Class D violent felony with a sentencing range of zero to eight years in prison.
Brennan agreed with Milecki that time behind bars was merited and necessary, adding that she was shocked by photos of his bloody wife that she had viewed. “I thought they were autopsy photos,” Brennan said.
The judge also ordered that after he is released from prison, Benjamin Ledyard must spend six months in confinement at a work-release center or home, and another 18 months on probation. She also mandated that he receive substance abuse and mental health treatment.
And despite the tearful pleas of the Ledyards that she lift a no-contact order that’s been in place since his January 1 arrest, Brennan said that order will remain in place at least until he leaves prison.
Sentencing memo details several acts of violence over 15-month period
Benjamin Ledyard’s other acts of violence against his wife were detailed publicly for the first time in prosecutor Jenna Milecki’s 10-page sentencing memo, which she filed with the judge Wednesday and discussed in court Friday.
Milecki’s memo paints a picture of a man who, often in a drunken rage, beat his wife time and time again, even on their wedding night, and had contact with her in violation of his bail conditions.
Milecki wrote that Ledyard’s attacks, which his wife has alternately confirmed and denied, had left her with bruises all over her body, a missing fingertip, and fractures of her face, nose, wrist, elbow, ribs, and spine.
Stephanie Ledyard went to the hospital numerous times after his attacks, in which she was punched, kicked, pushed to the ground, and even thrown against a wall, according to Milecki’s memo. But she often told doctors and nurses that her injuries were from accidents such as falling off her bike, and, in the case of her missing fingertip, smashing it in a car door, according to Milecki’s memo.
Ledyard, whose first marriage ended in divorce, has denied any involvement in the slaying of his second wife, Susan Ledyard.
While Milecki’s memo doesn’t mention Susan Ledyard’s killing, and it was not discussed in court Friday, the memo said Stephanie Ledyard gave them video recordings she made in which he threatened her and said he “would put the victim’s body in a cooler and dump it in the ocean,’’ Milecki wrote.
That same scenario played out in 1996 in perhaps Delaware’s most notorious murder case. That’s when prominent attorney Thomas Capano, a former prosecutor and aide to Wilmington Mayor Dan Fawley and Gov. Mike Castle, killed his former mistress, gubernatorial secretary Anne Marie Fahey, then stuffed her body in a cooler, and with his brother Gerard, tossed the ice chest into the Atlantic Ocean.
The videos Stephanie Ledyard took of her husband, who was often in an intoxicated state, show him belittling her as well as other bizarre behavior, including “turning lights on and off, and yelling, banging on walls at all hours of the night,’’ Milecki wrote.
After the New Year’s Day attack, Milecki wrote that Stephanie Ledyard often told authorities contrasting stories about her injuries because she “wanted to protect the defendant and save her marriage.”
Milecki wrote that Delaware authorities had previously arrested Ledyard for a December 2021 incident in which he had chased her into the bedroom of their home in Talleyville, threw items at her, and punched her several times.
Police who responded to her 911 call that night said that Benjamin Ledyard answered the door and “indicated that everything was fine,’’ but officers saw that she had a cut near her eye, and she told them about the attack, Milecki wrote.
Prosecutors had dropped that charge of third-degree assault, however, after Ledyard completed a domestic violence course. Milecki’s memo, however, said one of his attacks occurred during the period when he was taking the course.
Benjamin Ledyard later had that arrest expunged from court files. WHYY News had previously been informed about that arrest, but no court records could be found to verify it because of the expungement that Milecki’s memo has now documented.
Susan Ledyard’s 2019 slaying remains unsolved
Since the summer of 2019, state police have also been investigating the homicide of Susan Ledyard, whom he had married three years earlier.
The investigation remains active, say authorities, who in recent months have declined to divulge any details or say whether they are making progress toward solving the slaying.
Susan Ledyard, 50, was an English teacher at Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill, Pa., southwest of Philadelphia.
Her battered body was found in Brandywine Creek in northeast Wilmington shortly after daybreak on July 23, 2019. An autopsy later found that she died of blunt force trauma and drowning.
Benjamin Ledyard previously told police he went to an event at the Queen Theater in downtown Wilmington with friends the night before his wife’s body was found and had gone to bed about 11 p.m. while she was texting friends.
Susan Ledyard’s car was found the next morning on the banks of the Brandywine, about a mile from their rented home in west Wilmington. Her body was found about three miles downstream from where her car was parked.
Wife was ‘in and out of consciousness’ but he didn’t call 911
It’s not clear when Benjamin Ledyard and Stephanie Nixon began dating, but they married in September 2021.
Milecki’s memo said Stephanie indicated that Benjamin began abusing her before their marriage, and that on their wedding night, he “hit her so hard she had a hematoma,’’ a severe bruise.
It was just three months later that she called 911, and police arrested Benjamin Ledyard for assault.
Several other episodes occurred in 2022, including the incident where her fingertip was allegedly bitten off, and another where she needed surgery for a broken wrist and elbow.
That set the stage for New Year’s Day, which Milecki said was the culmination of days of abuse by Benjamin Ledyard, including repeatedly pushing her down and hitting her.
Milecki’s memo detailed the horror of the attack.
During the early morning hours of Jan. 1, Milecki wrote that he smashed Stephanie Ledyard in the head with a hardcover book and repeatedly smashed her face into the floor. Not only did he inflict a gaping head wound, but she suffered facial fractures and bruises, Milecki wrote.
The prosecutor noted during Friday’s hearing that Stephanie Ledyard initially told police he beat her with a marble block, but that authorities later recovered a bloody book that was deemed to be the weapon.
After the attack, Benjamin Ledyard didn’t call 911 but let his wife “wander the house while she bled profusely from the head, in and out of consciousness,’’ Milecki wrote.
When she was awake, she recorded herself begging him to call 911, as well as Benjamin Ledyarad telling her that “she fell and that he did not hurt her,’’ Milecki wrote.
Sometime after daybreak, when a neighbor saw her injuries and called 911, police and paramedics responded to the bloody crime scene at the sprawling home in Presidential Estates.
Benjamin Ledyard said his wife’s severe injuries were from a fall, but police placed him under arrest.
Stephanie Ledyard was taken to the hospital, where Milecki said the victim detailed the months and months of beatings and injuries, and how she attempted to cover them up because of threats he “made to her life and the life of her dog.”
Doctors and nurses at the Wilmington Hospital emergency room also documented old fractures in various stages of healing, Milecki wrote.
Couple seen together in March despite no-contact order
Benjamin Ledyard was held in prison for 10 days before posting $77,000 cash bail, and was ordered to have no contact with his wife, even if she reached out to him.
But late in the evening of March 3, he ran afoul of the law when he trashed an Airbnb apartment in Kennett Square, Pa., during a bloody domestic dispute with an unidentified “girlfriend,”’ police there said.
Milecki wrote that while Benjamin and Stephanie both denied that she was at the AirBnb with him, they were observed getting into the same vehicle in Kennett Square on March 5. When confronted with that information, Stephanie Ledyard acknowledged that he “may” have called her and that she also contacted him.
The damage, which cost $1,700 to repair and clean, included a hole in the wall that “appeared to be from someone punching it,” a kitchen door that was broken off, and blood on the carpet, bathroom curtain, and a towel, the warrant said.
The apartment’s owner told police that after Ledyard checked out, he reached out to her on the Airbnb app “to say he had a ‘boo boo’ while cleaning up the apartment.”
Police charged him in May with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct in that case.
Court records show that in July, the criminal mischief charge was dismissed but that Ledyard pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Milecki argued that lengthy prison time was appropriate not only because of the “violent acts” against his wife but also for “his inability to follow the order of the court not to contact Stephanie Ledyard.”
“While she may continue to deny and minimize the abuse,’’ the prosecutor wrote, “the history of violence in combination with her desire to resume the relationship demonstrates a serious concern for her safety.”
But on Friday, Stephanie Ledyard told the judge she didn’t feel she was in danger any longer.
As her husband was led away by bailiffs to be taken to prison, Stephanie Ledyard had tears streaming down her face as she stood in the front row of the courtroom’s spectator’s gallery.
Benjamin Ledyard turned toward his sobbing wife and called out, “I love you, Stephanie.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by domestic violence in Delaware, call one of the following 24-hour hotlines from the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence for crisis intervention, safety planning, resources, and referrals: New Castle County (302-762-6110); Kent and Sussex counties (302-422-8058); and Abriendo Puertas (302-745-9874).
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