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updated: 11/2/2011 6:06 PM

Trial opens in toddler's death at day care center

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  • Melissa Calusinski of Carpentersville on trial in the 2009 murder of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield.

      Melissa Calusinski of Carpentersville on trial in the 2009 murder of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield.

 
 

In relative terms, it really doesn't take that long to drive from Schaumburg to Libertyville.

But Amy Kingan testified Wednesday that on Jan. 14, 2009, "it seemed like it took forever" for her to get from her job to what was then Condell Medical Center and the emergency room she was told her son was in.

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The quest for an explanation for how 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan went from being what his mother described as "healthy, happy and normal" when dropped off at a day care center, to dying as doctors frantically tried to save his life began in a Lake County courtroom.

Prosecutors told a jury of eight women and four men that Melissa Calusinski, a teacher's aide at the former Minee Subee in the Park day care in Lincolnshire, shattered a four-inch-by-four-inch section of Benjamin's skull when she hurled the boy to the floor.

Calusinski's defense attorneys claimed they will prove Benjamin died when he aggravated pre-existing injuries by pounding his head on the floor during a tantrum.

Calusinski, 25, of Carpentersville, faces up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder after a trial the parties expect to last three weeks.

Assistant State's Attorney Christen Bishop said in her opening statement that Benjamin had been given a clean bill of health when he received his 15-month checkup in the month before his death.

A teacher in the room where Benjamin spent the day with his twin sister, Emily, left the classroom around 3:30 p.m. on the day Benjamin died, Bishop said, and Calusinski was alone in the room with all of the children.

At 3:51 p.m., a center staff member made a call for help to 911, Bishop said.

"Within 21 minutes, 16-month-old Ben was unresponsive, foaming at the nose, without a pulse and in full catastrophic collapse," she told the jurors. "What happened in those 21 minutes is why we are in this courtroom."

Calusinski told police she threw the toddler to the floor because he was throwing a fit because he did not want his hands washed, Bishop said. An autopsy confirmed the boy's injuries could have only been caused if he had been swung into a wall or thrown to the floor, Bishop added.

Defense attorney Daniel Cummings told the jurors the autopsy was flawed and failed to detect injuries to Benjamin's head that had been inflicted up to a month before his death.

He said the defense will call two pathologists who discovered the injuries missed in the autopsy and believe Benjamin made the injuries worse every time he threw himself backward and struck the back of his head on the floor.

Armed with the conclusions of that flawed autopsy, Cummings said, police believed murder was the only answer to the mystery of Benjamin's death.

Because of that, Cummings said, police coerced his client's confession, feeding her the story line they wanted parroted back to them.

"They browbeat her, they put her under the third degree," Cummings said. "They got her to say she threw the baby to the ground, but those words did not come from Melissa, they came from police."

Amy Kingan testified the hospital staff allowed her and her husband to be alone with Benjamin after they told them their son had died.

"They let us pick him up and hold him," she said through her tears. "They let us say goodbye."

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