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updated: 3/12/2015 5:40 AM

Pathologist in Calusinski case: Position on baby's death 'distorted'

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  • Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd

    Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd

  • Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim

    Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim

 
 

A forensic pathologist accused of misdiagnosing the death of a 16-month-old boy in a 2009 Lake County murder case fired back at critics Wednesday, claiming his position has been "distorted."

Dr. Eupil Choi said in a letter that Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd and producers of the news show "48 Hours" distorted his opinions regarding the cause of death of Benjamin Kingan at the now-closed Minee Subee in the Park day care center in Lincolnshire.

The letter from Choi, who served as the forensic pathologist and conducted the autopsy on Benjamin, is addressed to Rudd, defense attorney Kathleen Zellner, Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim, and various news agencies, including the producers of "48 Hours." The case was featured on "48 Hours" earlier this month.

"I would like to reassert my opinion which has been distorted by Dr. Thomas Rudd and the producers of that program (48 Hours)" Choi wrote. "My opinion of Benjamin's death has been, and remains, that Ben died from a catastrophic incident that resulted in a significant skull fracture and brain injuries shortly before his death."

Rudd was unavailable Wednesday, but issued a "no comment" through Chief Deputy Coroner Orlando Portillo.

The letter comes in response to Rudd's appearance on "48 Hours." During the program, Rudd claims Choi misdiagnosed the cause of Benjamin's death. He also called on the Lake County State's Attorney's office to reinvestigate the case.

Melissa Calusinski, a 28-year-old teacher's aide at the day care center, was convicted of murder by a jury in 2011 and sentenced to 31 years in prison. Charges alleged that the Carpentersville woman threw Benjamin to the floor, causing his fatal injuries.

Rudd said previously he reviewed evidence from the Calusinski case after taking office in 2012 and determined Kingan was suffering from a 4- to 6-week-old head injury when he died Jan. 14, 2009.

He said previous research of the case and new pathologic slides helped determine Benjamin was suffering from the old injury, then suffered a minor head injury the day he died. The additional head trauma led Benjamin to "re-bleed" and resulted in his death, Rudd said.

His statements contradicted Choi's trial testimony, during which the retired pathologist said the boy did not have a previous head injury and that he hit the floor with a force equal to that of a fall from a two-story building.

After being confronted by Rudd, Choi signed an affidavit claiming he missed the previous head injury.

In Choi's letter dated March 8, he wrote that he did observe "sparse" iron cells that indicated there was a previous injury when Rudd asked him to review the case. However, Choi wrote, those cells were "not significant" and such cells "are consistent with normal, nonviolent physiological occurrences, including birth trauma."

"In spite of Dr. Rudd's attempts to pressure me into changing my opinion, my conclusion remains that Ben died as a result of violent catastrophic blunt force trauma," Choi wrote.

In response to Choi's letter, Richard Huff, a spokesman from "48 Hours," said "the broadcast speaks for itself."

Zellner, Calusinski's defense attorney, did not respond to phone calls regarding the letter Wednesday.

Nerheim said the "re-bleed" argument was heard and dismissed previously by the jury in court. He will not reinvestigate the case unless defense attorneys produce new evidence.

"I've always maintained -- as has Dr. Choi -- that the victim died as a result of a catastrophic injury," Nerheim said. "Dr. Choi personally observed the skull fracture. The letter speaks for itself."

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