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Article updated: 9/7/2011 5:56 PM

Expert: Day care death suspect has "risk factors" for false confession

By Tony Gordon

A college professor and leading researcher in the field of false confessions testified Wednesday he saw indications the woman charged with killing a toddler at a Lincolnshire day care center may have admitted doing something she did not.

Richard Leo, of the University of San Francisco, also said under cross-examination the research done in his field is not universally accepted in the scientific or legal communities.

Melissa Calusinski, 24, of Carpentersville, is charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 14, 2009 death of the Deerfield boy at the former Minee Subee in the Park day care center.

The hearing was part of a motion filed by Calusinski's defense attorneys to suppress her videotaped confessions to killing 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan.

Leo, who said he is a lawyer and holds advanced degrees in social psychology and criminology, said research by himself and others in the field had identified certain risk factors leading to false confessions.

Two of those factors present in the Calusinski case were the fact police questioned her for more than four hours and that police appear to be promising her lenient treatment in exchange for her confession, Leo said.

Under cross-examination, however, Leo admitted at least one specialist in the field had written that the research on false confessions was not reliable enough to make for legitimate courtroom testimony.

Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes said he would rule on the admissibility of Leo's testimony on a future date.

Calusinski is shown on videotape twice telling police she hurled the boy to the ground when she became upset with other children in the room where she was serving as a teacher's aide.

An autopsy later determined Benjamin died from a skull fracture inflicted with the force equal to that of a fall from a one or two-story building.

Detectives from the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force questioned Calusinski for a 10-hour period over two days after the boy's death before she is shown admitting to the crime.

She is later shown telling another police officer what she said on the first tape. The officer said that occurred during a conversation that Calusinski initiated.

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