WAUKEGAN, Ill. – Lawyers for former day care worker Melissa Calusinski went after testimony from a key state witness during an evidentiary hearing Thursday as they work to overturn her conviction of killing a toddler that was in her care.
Calusinski is currently serving a 31-year prison sentence for allegedly throwing 16-month-old Benjamin Kingham to the floor seven years ago at a Lincolnshire Day Care, resulting in his death. But defense lawyer Kathleen Zellner and others allege that the forensic evidence in this case was mishandled.
In particular, defense lawyers say trial testimony by a key State witness, Dr. Manuel Montez, was highly questionable. Testimony offered Thursday alleged Montez lied about what he said was a Post-mortem examination of the child. Zellner argues the examination never actually happened.
When asked whether he believed Calusinski’s conviction was incorrect based on the evidence, Philadelphia pediatric neurologist Robert Zimmerman offered a potentially explosive response.
"I suspect that it was... I don't believe that he saw a skull fracture," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman is one of many experts called to testify that Kingham had preexisting injuries and that the Lake County Coroner missed that. A subsequent Lake County Coroner, Dr. Thomas Rudd, reopened the case, arguing that a second set of X-rays clearly showed no evidence that Calusinki was responsible.
Lake County prosecutors, who tried to block the request for a new trial, are in essence trying to defend their conviction. Calusinski, now 29, is in the Lake County courtroom for what is expected to be a two-day evidentiary hearing. The same judge who heard the original 2011 trial is presiding over the hearing.
The original defense lawyer at Calusinski's 2011 trial, Paul DeLuca, also took the stand and said the evidence clearly shows Kingham died as a result of previous head injuries that Melissa Calusinski had nothing to do with it.
The Lake County Sheriff's presence in the small courtroom was unusually heavy Thursday, perhaps a measure of the strong emotions surrounding this case.
Calusinski's father and family were in the courtroom. The Carpentersville family has maintained from the very start, after the toddler's death in 2009, that there was no way that Melissa could have been responsible for what happened.
The family alleges that top Lake County investigators coerced a false confession out of Calusinski, who worked at the now closed Minee Subee day care center in Lincolnshire.
"They framed my daughter. plain English. They framed my daughter,” said Paul Calusinski, reacting to testimony given during the hearing.