Former day care worker convicted of murdering toddler requests new trial

From Google ImagesMelissa Calusinski, who was convicted on November 16 for the killing of a toddler at a  day care center in Lincolnshire, Illinois, has requested a new trial, claiming that she was falsely accused.

She is comparing her case to another Lake County murder conviction that has been overturned by an appellate court.

On November 16th, the jury found Calusinski, 25, of Carpentersville, guilty of first degree murder for death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield in 2009.

Testimony at the trial indicated that Calusinksi told police that she intentionally slammed the toddler’s head to the ground out of frustration while at the Minee Subee in the Park Day Care Center in Lincolnshire, which is now closed.

Calusinski’s defense team, including high-profile attorney Kathleen Zellner, believes the police coerced her confession to police during a 10-hour interrogation. The attorneys allege that Judge Daniel Shanes committed a key error during the trial by not allowing an expert on false confession to testify and present the jury with information on the phenomenon. This is part of the reason for their motion for a new trial.

The motion states, “The defense presented studies … which indicated that jurors do not understand how false confessions occur, why they occur, circumstances under which they occur and that jurors felt it would be helpful if they understood this and were given information about this during trial.”

The attorneys have filed a supplemental motion based on the idea that  Calusinski’s case bears “certain similarities” with the case of Juan Rivera, whose conviction for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl was thrown out last month.

The supplemental motion states, “In the (Calusinski) case, the defendant has maintained that her ‘confession’ was false and the subject of coercion, suggestions and false promises of leniency, the defense request for expert testimony on ‘false confession’ was rejected by this Court…In Rivera, the statements or confession of Juan Rivera was ultimately rejected by the Appellate Court (which) acknowledged that ‘Innocent people do confess to crimes they do not commit.’”

The lawyers point out several inconsistencies in Calusinski’s case, including the fact that evidence and statements from other witnesses did not match up with her alleged confession. As an exapmple, “The defendant never stated that she left the room to use the washroom or visit her nephew. Nancy stated Melissa left the room, shortly after snacks were completed … Nancy then picked Ben up and he threw himself back in the tile because he was upset.”

They also said, “The manner in which the defendant stated she was holding the victim just prior to throwing him to the ground, with his back to her face, is physically inconsistent with the location of the fracture and bleeding which was on the back of the victim’s head.”

There was conflicting testimony from medical experts who testified at the trial about whether bleeding found in the boy’s brain was from a pre-existing injury. Witnesses testified that Benjamin had a tendency to throwi himself back and hit his head during tantrums.

Calusinski, who was also found guilty of aggravated battery to a child, faces possible life in prison. Arguments will be heard in court on Feb. 23 on the motion for the new trial and for sentencing, if time permits.