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updated: 11/8/2011 5:39 PM

Doctors disagree over meaning of toddler's autopsy results

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  • Melissa Calusinski of Carpentersville is on trial in Lake County for the 2009 death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield.

      Melissa Calusinski of Carpentersville is on trial in Lake County for the 2009 death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield.

 
 

Two doctors reviewed the results of Benjamin Kingan's autopsy and came to very different conclusions about what caused the boy's death, according to testimony Tuesday in Lake County Circuit Court.

Benjamin died Jan. 14, 2009 after he suddenly stopped breathing while attending the former Minee Subee in the Park day care center in Lincolnshire and was rushed to the hospital.

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Two days later, police said Melissa Calusinski of Carpentersville admitted she had thrown the 16-month-old boy to the floor when he became restless as she was carrying him in the room where she served as a teacher's aide.

In the fifth day of testimony in Calusinski's first-degree murder trial, the doctor who performed the autopsy testified for the prosecution. Defense attorneys called a paid consultant to the witness stand.

In keeping with his testimony in a motion to throw out the charges against Calusinski that was heard and denied a few months ago, Dr. Eupil Choi said he believed Benjamin suffered severe head injuries that were inflicted "very recently" prior to his death.

Choi, who performed the autopsy for the Lake County coroner's office, said the force that caused the skull fracture and bleeding inside Benjamin's head was equal to that of a fall from a one or two-story building.

Choi said he saw no evidence of any existing injury inside the boy's skull through his visual examination or as he viewed samples of brain tissue under a microscope.

Choi said he based his conclusion that the fatal injury was fresh largely on the bright red color of the blood he found in the injured areas.

Bright red was an indication of a "recent" injury, Choi said, and he added his definition of 'recent' covered a period of not more than 24 hours.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Paul DeLuca, Choi conceded a minor fall or injury to an area inside an infant's skull where a previous injury was healing could cause serious complications to the existing injury.

That's what the defense expert testified he believed killed Benjamin, claiming there was ample evidence of a pre-existing injury revealed by the autopsy.

Dr. Jann Leestma, a retired neuropathologist from Chicago, said he looked at the report, photographs and microscope slides from Choi's autopsy and believed Benjamin had a blood clot near his brain for several days if not weeks before his death.

Leestma said that while he saw bright red blood around the injury area just as Choi did, he also noted more brownish-colored pools indicative of bleeding that had occurred earlier.

He also said there were signs of iron cells around some areas of Benjamin's brain and yellowing skin on his scalp, both signs of a previous injury that had begun to heal.

Leestma said it was possible Benjamin had severely aggravated the existing injury by throwing himself backward and striking his head on the floor, as the defense has claimed throughout the case.

He also dismissed the notion of the force that killed the toddler being equal to a one- to two-story fall, saying the injuries an infant would suffer from such an event would be dramatically more severe than what killed Benjamin.

During cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Christen Bishop, Leestma said he was paid up to $600 per hour for his work for Calusinski's defense team and that most of the consulting work he does on criminal cases is for defense attorneys.

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