A woman is facing life behind bars after a man died allegedly from injuries she inflicted on him 36 years ago as his babysitter.
Terry McKirchy was given a light sentence in 1985 for shaking five-month-old Benjamin Dowling so severely that he suffered permanent brain damage. She pleaded no contest to an attempted murder charge.
Mr Dowling went on to live a life with severe disabilities and a Florida medical examiner said he succumbed to his injuries and died in 2019, aged 35.
McKirchy, 59, told his parents he had fallen off the couch at the time, Fox News reported. He was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with shaken infant syndrome. Mr Dowling was never able to communicate, had to have metal rods inserted near his spine to keep him upright and needed a feeding tube.
On the night he suffered his injuries, his mum Rae told police her boy's hands "were clenched and he was turning blue", according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Ms Dowling and her husband Joe said their first son never progressed past a five-month-old after his injuries, depending on his family and others.
“Benjamin never crawled, fully rolled over, walked, never talked, never fed himself, he never enjoyed a hamburger or an ice cream cone, he could never tell us when he had an itch or anything hurt,” the couple said in a statement.
“When he cried in pain, we as a family and caregivers had to guess as to what was wrong and hope that we could satisfy his need.”
His babysitter spent weekends in jail as part of her sentence but a Broward County grand jury recently indicted McKirchy with first-degree murder and she is now jailed near her home in Sugar Land, Texas, pending her return to Florida.
Case still has many 'unanswered questions'
McKirchy, who has previously denied injuring the boy, has waived extradition, the Broward State Attorney’s Office said. The South Florida SunSentinel first reported the arrest.
“The passage of time between the injuries sustained and the death of the victim were considered by the forensic experts who conducted the autopsy and ruled the death was directly caused by the injuries from 1984,” prosecutors said in a statement.
“This case was presented to the grand jury, which determined that this was a homicide.”
Mr Dowling’s parents said their son “would never know how much he was loved and could never tell others of his love for them”.
“Benjamin did smile when he was around his family, although he could never verbalise anything, we believe he knew who we were and that we were working hard to help him,” they said.
David Weinstein, a Miami defence lawyer and former prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said it is difficult to know what went into the 1985 plea deal. Perhaps witnesses were not available or the available medical evidence was not strong.
Prosecutors may have felt McKirchy’s pregnancy would make it difficult to get a conviction.
Today, he said, prosecutors may think a homicide case is stronger because perhaps the medical and scientific evidence has progressed. He said McKirchy’s lawyers may argue that the time lapse will make it impossible for them to mount an adequate defence as witnesses may have died and memories faded.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.
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