Babysitter charged with murder of baby 35 years later
In 1985, Terry McKirchy was given a light sentence of attempted murder for shaking five-month-old Benjamin Dowling so severely, he suffered permanent brain damage.
But the baby never recovered from his injuries and lived his entire life with severe disabilities. He was never able to communicate, needed metal rods inserted near his spine to keep him upright and used a feeding tube to eat.
In 2019, a medical examiner from Florida said Dowling finally succumbed to his injuries and died, aged 35.
At the time of the incident, McKirchy, 59, told his parents Dowling had fallen off the couch, according to Fox News. The baby was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with shaken infant syndrome.
When his mother, Rae, saw him on the night he suffered his injuries, she 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 suffering his injuries and continued to depend on his family and others for support all his life.
The couple said in a statement: “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."
“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,” they added.
The babysitter spent weekends in jail as part of her sentence but a Broward County Grand jury recently indicted McKirchy as guilty of first-degree murder and she is now jailed near her home in Sugar Land, Texas, pending her return to Florida.
Confusion as to why McKirchy wasn't charged with a harsher sentence at the time centres around the fact she was pregnant at the time. David Weinstein, a Miami defence lawyer and former prosecutor who's not involved in the case, said perhaps witnesses were not available or the available medical evidence was not strong.
Now the homicide case appears stronger because the medical and scientific evidence has progressed. As prosecutors said in a statement: “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."
“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.
Image credit: AAP