Coroner: Toddler's 2009 death at day care no longer a homicide
The Lake County coroner has changed the official manner of death for a 16-month-old Deerfield boy who died of head injuries in 2009 after passing out at a Lincolnshire day care center.
Coroner Thomas Rudd said in a news release Wednesday that it is impossible to conclude that the final head injury that caused the death of Benjamin Kingan was intentionally inflicted, and therefore the manner of death is "undetermined."
Rudd's predecessor, Richard Keller, had ruled the boy's death a homicide.
The ruling comes after X-rays of Benjamin's head were discovered June 10 and showed no skull fractures.
"We need to reinvestigate and reopen this case," Rudd said. "The child received a serious bump on the head in October (2008). That is the injury that led to the death of Benjamin Kingan."
It is not immediately clear how Rudd's ruling will affect the case of Melissa Calusinski, the former day care worker serving a 31-year prison sentence handed down after she was convicted of murdering Benjamin.
A Lake County judge will decide in September whether to grant Calusinski, 28, of Carpentersville, a new trial.
But Calusinski's father, Paul, said he wonders why she must still remain locked up.
"She told them 79 times she had no idea what happened to him," Calusinski told ABC 7 Chicago.
"It's horrible," Rudd said, according to ABC 7. "Yes, yes. It should have been picked up."
A jury convicted Calusinski in 2011, after Lake County prosecutors argued she threw the boy to the floor at the now-closed Minee Subee in the Park day care center in Lincolnshire, causing his fatal injuries.
Calusinski confessed during questioning, but defense attorney Kathleen Zellner has argued that her admissions were coerced by police.
Zellner says a new trial is warranted because a set of autopsy X-rays taken of Benjamin's skull clearly showed the toddler was suffering from a pre-existing injury when he died.
After the X-rays were discovered, forensic pathologist Dr. Nancy Jones reviewed them and determined Benjamin died from a chronic case of cerebral swelling of the brain due to repetitive concussions brought on after the child bumped his own head in October 2008, according to court documents.
Jones states the chronic condition was exacerbated through the final months of Benjamin's life by continued "head banging." The fatal blow came from Benjamin bumping his head on the floor at the day care center 15 to 20 minutes before he died, according to Jones.
"How much more proof do you need? And if that was given to us from the very beginning, Melissa wouldn't be where she's at," Paul Calusinski told ABC 7.
Rudd said the second set of X-rays clearly show there was no skull fracture, and therefore the evidence used to prosecute Calusinski makes no sense.
"In conclusion, it is impossible to conclude that the final head injury was intentionally inflicted," Rudd said.
Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said via email that he is reviewing the documents to determine whether the medical conclusions and X-rays is new evidence, whether the X-rays were previously given to defense attorneys, and whether the images have any added significance to what was presented at Calusinski's trial.
"This is a pending case before a Lake County judge," Nerheim said. "The legal arguments in this case will be decided in a court of law, not by press release."
Paul Calusinski told ABC 7 that after nearly six years in jail, his daughter is ready to come home.
"She knows if she has to wait a little longer, she has to wait a little longer," he said. "She's been waiting for this long, and she now knows she's been vindicated."