Carpentersville woman convicted in toddler’s death to get clemency hearing

A Carpentersville woman serving a 31-year prison sentence for the death of a toddler at a Lincolnshire day care center will seek clemency from the Illinois Prisoner Review Board next month.

Former teacher’s aide Melissa Calusinski, 37, was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2009 death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan.

Authorities alleged Calusinski threw the Deerfield boy to ground on Jan. 14, 2009, causing a fatal head injury.

The PRB hears petitions for clemency and makes recommendations to the governor. The panel will hear Calusinski’s clemency request July 9, at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield.

During hearings, an odd number of the board’s 11 members listen to arguments from both sides and submit a recommendation to the governor, said general counsel Kahalah Clay. There is no timeline for the board to submit its findings or for the governor’s response.

In a videotaped interrogation with police, Calusinski, then 22, said Benjamin was fussing as she carried him across a room while other children were causing a commotion nearby. She told authorities she was alone in the room and became overwhelmed and frustrated.

A Lake County jury convicted her in 2011 and a state appeals court upheld the verdict in 2014.

Calusinski later said her confession was coerced and her efforts to win her freedom have gained the attention of national media, including the CBS news program “48 Hours.”

Speaking to reporters in 2018, Calusinski attorney Kathleen Zellner referenced more detailed X-ray evidence exonerates her client.

“We now know there was no skull fracture and we know that there was an old injury,” Zellner told reporters in 2018.

Lake County prosecutors say they received the clemency petition last month but “the parole board did not send us notice of the July hearing until June 10.”

A spokeswoman for Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said in a prepared statement that prosecutors will file their objection to clemency by June 26.

“Since we received the clemency petition and the notice, our office has been in communication with the Kingan family's attorney. We will continue to offer them support during what must be a difficult time for them.”

The office declined further comment.

Kingan family attorney Michael J. Perillo Jr., confirmed he spoke with prosecutors about the hearing.

“Earlier this week, I had a wide-ranging and complete conversation with State’s Attorney Rhinehart and one of his assistants and I am pleased with the content of same,” Perillo said.

Calusinski remains incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center. Her projected parole date is Dec. 30, 2039.

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