A former Delaware banking executive whose wife’s 2019 murder remains unsolved has pleaded guilty to a vicious New Year’s Day attack on his new wife.
Benjamin Ledyard, who worked as an investment consultant for Bank of America and Wilmington Trust, took a deal from prosecutors and pleaded guilty Wednesday in Superior Court to second-degree assault against Stephanie Ledyard.
Second-degree assault is a Class D violent felony punishable by zero to eight years in prison but no mandatory time behind bars. The 56-year-old Leyard, who has been free on $77,000 cash bail since days after the attack, will be sentenced on October 27.
A police report said Ledyard, who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds, struck his wife of 15 months over the head with a marble block during the January 1 fight at their home in Talleyville, then grabbed her hair and smashed her head repeatedly into the hardwood floor.
The beating sent the bloodied woman to the hospital with what police called a “severe laceration” on her head. A photo taken after the attack, provided by a source to WHYY News, shows she suffered a ghastly gash atop her head more than an inch wide and several inches long.
In return for his guilty plea, the office of Attorney General Kathy Jennings dropped charges of misdemeanor terroristic threatening and menacing in that attack.
Prosecutors also dropped the more serious charge of first-degree assault from an incident in the summer of 2022. That was when Ledyard allegedly bit off the tip of his wife’s pinky finger during an argument and later told her, “I think I swallowed it,’’ according to court records which did not specify the date of that alleged assault.
Unlike second-degree assault, first-degree assault does carry a minimum prison term. Conviction carries a mandatory two years behind bars and up to 25 years.
After the tip of her finger was injured, Stephanie Ledyard told authorities at the Wilmington Hospital emergency room that she injured it in a door frame. But after the New Year’s Day attack, she told New Castle County officers her husband had bit the tip of her finger off.
While the most serious charge against Ledyard was dropped, Jennings’ spokesman Mat Marshall said Domestic Violence Unit director Jenna Milecki secured a “high-level felony conviction” against him.
“The defendant committed a heinous act of violence against the victim. He’s facing a penalty of up to eight years in prison,” Marshall said. “Whenever we offer up a plea and craft that agreement with the defendant and their counsel, it’s keeping in mind the facts of the case. There is serious injury to the victim here, as well as the likelihood of conviction and trial.”
Peter Veith, Ledyard’s attorney, said his client “accepted responsibility for his actions’’ on New Year’s Day, and “all other charges have been dropped. We’re going to prepare for sentencing.”
Attempts to reach Stephanie Ledyard were unsuccessful.
2019 killing of Susan Ledyard an ‘active investigation’
The murder of Ledyard’s second wife, Susan Ledyard, remains unsolved, but Marshall said the four-year-old case has not been closed by state police.
“It’s still an ongoing and active investigation,’’ Marshall said.
He would not provide any details or say if Ledyard is a suspect. “It’s not something I can comment on at this time,” Marshall said.
Susan Ledyard, 50, was an English teacher at Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill, Pa., southwest of Philadelphia.
An autopsy found that Susan Ledyard died of blunt force trauma and drowning after her battered body was found in Brandywine Creek in northeast Wilmington.
Benjamin Ledyard, whose first marriage ended in divorce, has denied any involvement in the slaying of Susan Ledyard, his wife of three years. He 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.
Asked about the ongoing probe into Susan Ledyard’s killing, Veith would not comment. “We’re focused on the present and we’re not commenting on any other investigations,” Veith said.
Ledyard struck third wife with ‘white square marble block’
Stephanie Ledyard became Ledyard’s third wife in September 2021, and according to police reports, he became violent with her the next summer.
While her accusations that he bit part of her finger off have been dropped, Ledyard has admitted before a judge that he brutalized her on New Year’s Day at their home in the Presidential Estates neighborhood, west of Wilmington.
Stephanie Ledyard told police that Ledyard had been drinking and playing loud music, so she asked him to turn the music down, the arrest warrant said. They began arguing and Ledyard told his wife that “tonight I’m going to definitely give you a good beating,” then picked up a cue stick for billiards and “started swinging” it at her.
She told officers she ran away but he chased her around the house and hit her with what she believed was a “white square marble block with a black figurine on it,’’ the warrant said. Then he pushed her to the ground, grabbed her hair, and “repeatedly smashed” her “head into the hardwood floor several times.”
Officers wrote that Benjamin Ledyard “refused”’ to speak with them on New Year’s Day about either of the criminal accusations. He was taken into custody that day, and when he was freed on bail days later, one condition of his release was that he have no “direct or indirect” contact with his wife.
Guilty plea in bloody March domestic incident at Airbnb
Ledyard also ran afoul of the law two months after beating his wife, however, when he was arrested for trashing an Airbnb apartment in Kennett Square, Pa., during a bloody domestic dispute with an unidentified “girlfriend.”
On the night of March 3, neighbors texted the apartment’s owner to report “there was yelling in the apartment and what sounded like a lot of banging on the walls” at the unit Ledyard was renting, the police arrest warrant said.
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.
Kennett Square police Lt. Kenneth Rongaus told WHYY in May that the identity of the woman is unknown. He said officers had contacted Stephanie Ledyard the day after viewing the damage and the blood on March 6, but “she denied being present” that night.
Court records show that in July, the criminal mischief charge was dismissed but that Ledyard pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Marshall said the court had ordered a presentence report for the judge to review at sentencing, but would not say whether the crime Ledyard committed while he was out on bail would be brought up at the October hearing.
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