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Melissa CALUSINSKI

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Day care worker
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 14, 2009
Date of birth: October 4, 1986
Victim profile: Benjamin Kingan, 16-month-old
Method of murder: She hurled Benjamin Kingan to the floor
Location: Lincolnshire, Lake County, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to 31 years in prison on February 22, 2012
 
 

 
 
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Judge Rejects New Trial For Daycare Worker Convicted Of Killing Toddler

Chicago.CBSlocal.com

March 29, 2012

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (STMW) – Claiming a key prosecution witness lied about his credentials, Melissa Calusinski’s attorneys argued Thursday the former daycare worker convicted of murdering a toddler deserves a new trial.

A pathologist who examined 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan didn’t tell jurors hearing the trial that he had failed an exam to become board-certified, defense attorney Paul DeLuca said, arguing Calusinski’s rights were violated because that information could have affected the impact of his testimony.

“He lied to the jury,” DeLuca said of Dr. Manny Montez, who graphically described for jurors the brain and skull injuries that caused the boy’s 2009 death. “Dr. Montez was a significant witness for the state.”

But Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes on Thursday rejected the request for a new trial, saying he didn’t believe the omission violated Calusinski’s rights to a fair trial, the Sun-Times is reporting.

“I just don’t see how the defendant was prejudiced,” Shanes said as he refused to overturn Calusinski’s November murder conviction.

And Shanes, who at one point dismissed the dispute as “much ado about nothing,” pointedly said he didn’t believe Montez misrepresented his medical background when questioned by defense attorneys during her trial.

“I do not find Dr. Montez lied. There is no perjured testimony in that regard,” Shanes said.

DeLuca and co-counsel Dan Cummings said they were “disappointed” by the ruling and expect to raise the issue when they appeal Calusinski’s murder conviction and 31-year prison sentence.

Calusinski was convicted of killing Benjamin on Jan. 14, 2009 when she became frustrated and hurled him to the floor at the Minee Subee daycare center in Lincolnshire.

Montez and other doctors testified the 22-pound boy suffered fatal brain and skull injuries that appeared to have been inflicted when his head hit a tile floor.

When questioned by DeLuca during the trial, Montez testified he was not board-certified in pathology, saying he hadn’t taken the required exam.

Medical records subpoenaed after the trial indicate he failed a board exam in anatomic pathology in 2001 and hadn’t taken an exam for forensic pathology, defense attorneys said.

Jurors should have been told those details about Montez’s medical background to better understand his expertise, defense attorneys argued.

“Our client’s due process rights were violated by this witness lying,” said DeLuca, who argued during the trial that other medical evidence indicated the Deerfield boy could have suffered from prior, undiagnosed brain bleeding that contributed to his death.

Montez couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but prosecutors contended he didn’t lie because he told jurors he was not board-certified. The details of that lack of certification wouldn’t have affected the jury verdict, prosecutors said.

“It didn’t matter to the case,” Assistant State’s Attorney Christen Bishop said.


Daycare worker gets 31 years in prison for killing toddler

By Dan Rozek - SunTimes.com

February 23, 2012

It took only seconds for daycare worker Melissa Calusinski to hurl 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan to the ground so violently he suffered fatal head injuries.

But her brief action caused lasting, irrevocable harm, a Lake County judge said Thursday as he sentenced Calusinski to 31 years in prison for the 2009 killing at a Lincolnshire day care center.

“In two to three seconds, people can lose everything. In two to three seconds, a person can lose his life,” Judge Daniel Shanes said before imposing a prison term that will keep the 25-year-old Calusinski behind bars until she is in her 50s.

The Carpentersville woman faced a possible life sentence after being convicted in November of first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the Deerfield boy’s death on Jan. 14, 2009.

Shanes instead opted for the shorter prison term, saying since he couldn’t undo what happened to Benjamin, it was time to “move forward.”

“Whatever the court does, it cannot undo the tragic events of that day,” said Shanes, who called the case “a civilized society’s nightmare.”

Calusinski, wearing a blue jail uniform, her hands shackled, sat calmly as she was ordered to prison.

Earlier, she vehemently denied hurting the child she called “a wonderful boy.”

“I want everyone to know I am innocent of this crime. I did not abuse or hurt him in any way,” she said. “I will never stop fighting this. And I will always maintain my innocence.”

Her attorneys, who already have appealed her conviction, echoed her claim that she never harmed the boy left in her care at the Minee Subee day care center.

“We believe in her innocence,” defense attorney Paul DeLuca said after the sentencing, adding Calusinski was prepared for the lengthy prison term.

“She was ready for it. She’s a strong person,” he said.

Benjamin’s parents also showed little reaction as Calusinski was sentenced, but both had fought back tears earlier as they recounted the pain of losing their son at the hands of someone they trusted to care for him.

“He had so much life ahead of him and she took it away from him and us,” Amy Kingan said, her voice breaking as her husband, Andy, sat beside her, holding her hand. “He will never experience his first day of school, learn to ride a bike, play sports, graduate high school, fall in love, get married or give us grandchildren.”

Three years after their son’s death, she and her husband still have trouble accepting that he is gone.

“We wish so badly we could hold him in our arms just one last time,” Amy Kingan said.

Calusinski told police in two videotaped statements she became frustrated and threw Benjamin down when he fussed as she tried to wash his hands after he’d eaten an afternoon snack of animal crackers and fruit juice. She told investigators she saw him crawl to a bouncy seat, then found him unconscious a few minutes later.

Defense attorneys argued during her trial that police coerced those statements from Calusinski after hours of intense questioning. She repeated that claim Thursday at her sentencing.

“My statements were false, but I had no choice but to admit those things,” she said. “I was so scared — I did not understand what the detectives were telling me to say.”

Her attorneys contended Calusinski never harmed the boy, but said Benjamin had prior, undiagnosed brain bleeding that could have been abruptly aggravated by even a minor head injury — a view backed by two pathologists who testified on her behalf.

Prosecutor Christen Bishop sought a 65-year prison term for Calusinski, saying Benjamin was a “happy, healthy baby boy” before she threw him down.

“She forever altered the lives of so many people by ending the life of one,” Bishop said. “This defendant is accountable for her actions that day in harming and killing Ben."


Day care worker convicted of toddler's murder continues to proclaim innocence

In her first interview, Carpentersville woman, 25, insists she'll be exonerated

By Ruth Fuller - ChicagoTribune.com

March 02, 2012

Melissa Calusinski felt nothing when a judge sentenced her last week to 31 years in prison.

It was a stark contrast to the shock and horror that she said overwhelmed her when she was found guilty three months ago of murdering a Deerfield toddler at a Lincolnshire day care center where she worked.

This time, she was prepared.

"It's just a number to me, because I know I am innocent," Calusinski said from Lake County Jail, in her first media interview since her 2009 arrest. "I know that I'm going to get out of here, and I am going to do whatever it takes to prove my innocence."

Though Calusinski confessed to the crime on videotape, the petite Carpentersville woman, now 25, has since maintained that she was wrongly targeted for the death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan. Her lawyers have argued that her confession was coerced during a 10-hour interrogation, in part because of her low IQ.

Yet jurors at her trial in November apparently believed her admission and not her lawyers' claims that it was coerced. They convicted her of first-degree murder, rejecting a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. At her sentencing, Judge Daniel Shanes said he had "no doubt the defendant voluntarily made that (confession)."

As Calusinski prepares to be transferred to state prison to complete her sentence, her confession is one aspect of the case that her lawyers are focused on as they seek to win her a new trial. And although some observers question why anyone would confess to a crime they didn't commit, in recent years, defendants in two high-profile Lake County murders — Jerry Hobbs and Juan Rivera — were both cleared, despite both giving confessions.

In Calusinski's case, she had been interrogated for more than six hours before offering the first hint of culpability in the boy's death. Earlier in the questioning, she had suggested Benjamin might have injured himself because of his propensity to throw himself onto the ground during tantrums. Later, she offered that he might have hit his head on a chair when he accidentally slipped from her arms.

Over those hours, Calusinski's interrogators — Round Lake Park police Chief George Filenko and Highland Park police Detective Sean Curran — tried different tactics to elicit her confession, ranging from telling her that they were sure the boy's death was accidental, to telling her they were sure it was intentional.

Eventually, she agreed with a "yeah," after Curran suggested she had intentionally thrown Benjamin to the floor. Later, she recounted that version of events back to the investigators and used a doll to demonstrate how she mishandled the boy.

During her jailhouse interview this week, though, Calusinski said that she finally confessed because she was "very scared." She also said she was grief-stricken over Benjamin's death and was lacking sleep and food.

"I wanted to get out of there. … I was so isolated," said Calusinski, who added she's never been in trouble before besides a parking ticket. "I thought, 'I'll tell them what they wanted to hear so we can all go home.' I didn't think about jail. They made it clear I was going home."

After the confession, when she was told she was being charged, Calusinski said she immediately protested and claimed her innocence.

"I was like, 'You guys are making a huge mistake, I did nothing to him,'" she said. "They ignored me."

Calusinski said she's always been obedient and did what she was told. She said that might have led her to agree with police when they told her she was involved in Benjamin's death.

She also admits that learning was never easy for her and she was often the brunt of teasing and bullying because of it.

"I was kind of slow, but I did my best no matter what," she said. "If I said the wrong answer (other kids) would call me stupid. I learned to ignore it and do my own thing."

Her own thing turned out to be a love of art, the outdoors and children. Beginning her first baby-sitting job at age 13, she later became a nanny for five children before taking the job at Minee Subee in the Park nursery in Lincolnshire.

Despite everything, she hasn't given up her dream of being an elementary school art teacher.

"I love kids," she said.

And Calusinski said she continues to grieve for Benjamin, whom she said was "really happy. He was bold, he loved to play, he was always smiling. I had pictures of him on my cellphone."

She said she still doesn't know what happened to Benjamin that day but believes his fatal injury might have been caused by his habit of throwing himself backward to the ground, something she said he would do to get attention.

Benjamin's parents, Andy and Amy Kingan, did not respond to an interview request. According to a victims' impact statement read by Amy Kingan at the sentencing, she and her husband believe Calusinski caused their son's death and the heartbreak it brought to their family. Among the couple's other children is Benjamin's twin sister, who was also at the day care center when he died.

"Because of Melissa's actions, our children have been forever affected," Amy Kingan said. "The kids wonder if their teachers at school are going to kill them. There is no way to comprehend what Melissa has done to us, our family, our friends and most importantly little Ben."

For her part, Calusinski said she's taking things "one day at a time," reading, writing and drawing portraits of other inmates' children. She's anxious about being moved to prison, likely next week.

"I'm scared and worried because it is a new environment," she said. "But I'm going to continue to stay strong. I know I am not going to be in there for a long time."


Calusinski found guilty in toddler's day care death

By Tony Gordon - DailyHerald.com

November 17, 2011

A Lake County jury deliberated for about seven hours Wednesday before finding Melissa Calusinski guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated battery to a child after a two-week trial.

Calusinski, 25, faces up to life in prison when she is sentenced sometime early next year in the Jan. 14, 2009, death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield.

The conviction on the most serious charges came in spite of a last-minute move by Calusinski's defense team that persuaded Lake County Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes to allow the jurors to consider two lesser offenses.

Shanes agreed to tell the eight women and four men on the jury they could convict Calusinski of involuntary manslaughter or reckless conduct in the event they did not believe she was guilty of murder or aggravated battery.

The consequences could have been significant for the Carpentersville woman, who could have been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter, while reckless conduct in this case would have been punishable by up to three years in prison.

Benjamin's parents were in the courtroom when the verdicts were read but left without comment.

“We will appeal everything,” defense attorney Paul DeLuca said upon leaving the courtroom. “Melissa is devastated, just devastated, and I think the combination of a child's death and a confession were too much to overcome.”

Calusinski was a teacher's aide at the former Minee Subee in the Park day care center in Lincolnshire that Benjamin attended with his twin sister, Emily.

Police said she was alone in the classroom with Benjamin and seven other toddlers when she hurled Benjamin to the floor.

In two videotaped statements to police that were played for the jury, Calusinski says Benjamin was fussing as she carried him across the room, the other children present were causing a commotion and she became overwhelmed and frustrated.

Assistant State's Attorney Christen Bishop urged the jurors to convict Calusinski of murder and to reject the defense theory that Benjamin had an undetected existing head injury that he aggravated by pounding his own head on the floor.

“This is not an accident, this is not reckless, this is not a bump on the head and this is not Benjamin throwing himself backwards,” Bishop said. “Benjamin Kingan was not a ticking time bomb who exploded on her watch.”

Bishop and the other prosecutors called several physicians to testify during the trial who said Benjamin was a normal healthy toddler until the day that he died.

Dr. Eupil Choi, who performed the autopsy on Benjamin, testified that the boy hit the floor with a force equal to that of a fall from a two-story building.

Calusinski's defense had doctors as well who said Choi's autopsy was flawed in several ways and that he failed to detect numerous signs of the previous injury.

Attorney Paul DeLuca suggested the injury may have been inflicted the October before Benjamin died, when the staff at Minee Subee saw a bump on the back of his head just before a regularly scheduled doctor visit.

“Two days later, he is in the doctor's office and there wasn't a CT Scan, there wasn't an MRI,” DeLuca said. “Maybe it would have detected something, but we will never know.”

DeLuca also asked jurors to disregard his client's admissions to police, saying they were the result of professional interrogators who exploited Calusinski's low IQ and inexperience in dealing with police.

“These guys are good, they are pros,” DeLuca said. “By the time they were done with her, Melissa Calusinski thought she was going home; that is how messed up she was."


Video shows day care worker admitting she hurt child who later died

By Ruth Fuller - ChicagoTribune.com

January 12, 2011

The most dramatic moment yet in the pretrial phase of the Minee Subee day care center death came last week, when the recorded confession of the accused center employee, Melissa Calusinski, was shown in court.

Though a judge had yet to rule on whether the interrogation video will be allowed during Calusinski's trial, it showed that she was questioned for nearly 10 hours before she agreed with an interrogator's statement that she slammed 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan's head to a carpeted floor shortly before he died in January 2009

Calusinski, 24, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Benjamin's death, which occurred while he was in the care of the now-shuttered day care center in Lincolnshire.

The video shows that for hours during questioning by two members of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, Calusinski repeatedly denied having anything to do with Benjamin's death or knowing what happened to him.

Almost four hours into the questioning, Calusinski, of Carpentersville, suggested that Benjamin could have caused his own fatal injuries when he threw himself violently backward to the carpeted floor, hitting his head audibly shortly before his death. Calusinski has said he had a habit of doing that during tantrums.

In the video, Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko, one of the investigators, tells Calusinski, "We've got this narrowed down to a really tight time frame. Something happened where you got frustrated, aggravated, whatever. Something happened, but it wasn't him throwing himself back."

"That's the only thing I could possibly think of," Calusinski responds. "I never took out any frustrations out on any of my kids, ever."

As the questioning continued, the interrogators told Calusinski that they knew the injury happened right before Benjamin died, when she was the only one caring for him.

In the pretrial hearing, one of Calusinski's attorneys, Paul DeLuca, stopped the video to ask Highland Park Police Detective Sean Curran, who was on the witness stand, "When you told Melissa it happened within minutes, did you have medical evidence or was it a tactic?"

"I knew it could've happened within minutes, but it was more of a tactic," Curran said.

Later, on the video, the interrogators tell Calusinski that they know what happened to Benjamin was an accident.

"If you didn't intend on killing someone, we wouldn't want you to go to jail," Curran says. "I know that you are upset, but stuff like this happens all the time. Who knows, he could have had some pre-existing condition."

Calusinski then explains that Benjamin slipped out of her hands when she got him out of a chair after a snack and hit his head on the back of another chair. After she tearfully describing what happened with the assistance of a stuffed bear as a prop to represent Benjamin, Filenko says, "You're doing the right thing."

The investigators leave the room for about an hour, then return and tell Calusinski that they have spoken to the pathologist, who said that Benjamin could not have died the way she suggested.

"We're running out of time here, and we're running out of stories," Filenko says. "Every time you come up with another story it takes away some of your credibility.

"We don't want to feed you a story. We want you to tell us exactly what happened here. If the doctor doesn't concur with what you're telling us here, there's going to be a determination that you are being deceptive, and that's not where you want to be."

"If you are lying, it looks like you intentionally killed this baby," Curran says. "You understand this is your last opportunity to tell us the truth."

"There's no way I would ever, ever take my frustrations out on a kid," Calusinski responds.

The investigators start to walk out of the room again, at which point Calusinski asks when she will be able to go home. She says she is feeling claustrophobic in the interrogation room in the Lake Zurich Police Department, which is about 8 feet by 12 feet, and is nauseated from not eating all day.

When Filenko and Curran return, their tactics become more aggressive and they begin to swear and yell at Calusinski.

"That story you are giving us is a load of (expletive)," Curran says.

"Here's the deal," Filenko says, "we've got the time down to when this occurred where only one person was responsible, and that is you. You've changed your story six times and this is absolute crap. You are crossing the line into intent. You're covering something up."

"I didn't do anything," Calusinski says. "I'm telling you guys the truth, and it's like I'm getting blamed."

"You need to think, because you are running out of time," Filenko says. "We're not going anywhere until we get the facts here."

"I know how hard and frustrating it is to have one baby, let alone eight," Curran says.

At that point, Calusinski began to give her confession, first admitting she was frustrated "because he kept wanting to be held."

"You had a momentary lapse in judgment. … You were angry," Curran says.

"I was angry," Calusinski repeats. "The kids were driving me up a wall while (a co-worker) was doing the dishes, and I put him down and his head hit on the ground."

"What we think happened here is … all the other babies are screaming, you've got Ben in your hands, he's acting up, you throw him to the floor," Curran says.

"Yeah," she responds.

"You got frustrated," Filenko says.

"Yes I did," Calusinski says. "I was really frustrated because all the kids were screaming behind me."

"Why did you lie to us before?" Curran asks.

"I was scared," she says. "I'm very sorry."

Curran asks her if she feels better, and she says yes.

As the questioning ends, Calusinski tells Curran she just wants to call her parents and go see her puppy. She asks if this is "going to go on my record."

"That's one thing we're going to have to determine," Curran responds. "The main thing is, you told the truth."

The judge is expected to rule in the coming weeks on a defense motion to quash Calusinski's arrest and suppress evidence at her trial.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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