07.21.2017 by @51kikey
Lake County in the State of Illinois is aptly named. No fewer than 93 lakes are contained within its borders and two-thirds of the county is in fact made up of water. Hidden away on the far North Eastern rim of Illinois, Lake County lives up to its geographic of being anything but watertight.
Melissa Calusinski, a graduate of Barrington High School spent four years as a nanny and during that time earned high praise from children’s parents to which she cared. Calusinski went on to work for Minee-Subee Daycare Centre in Lincolnshire, Illinois where she was tasked with looking after pre-school children. Events would take a tragic turn. On the 14th of January 2009, 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan was found unresponsive in his bouncy chair. Foam and blood were found coming out of his nose. Only 1 hour later Benjamin was pronounced dead at the hospital before his parents could see him. The 22-year-old Calusinski was questioned on January 16th and denied hurting Benjamin 79 times to investigators. However, after an interrogation that lasted over 9 hours she confessed to slamming Kingan’s head on the ground in anger.
Calusinski was found guilty of first degree murder and battery of a child in 2011, her sentence set at 31 years. During her trial, testimony as to Benjamin’s fractured skull was heard and along with Calusinski’s confession the jury found her guilty after deliberating for a little over 7 hours. Much has been made of both pieces of evidence. Calusinski’s confession draws parallels with that of Brendan Dassey of ‘Making a Murderer’ fame. The x-rays, of Benjamins skull handed over to the defence team were useless as to their quality and thus testimony was taken as fact. When enhanced copies of the same x-rays arose that showed no skull fracture, said testimonies were themselves brought under the spotlight.
I’m not going to delve into the minutiae of the court case and its findings but please look into Kathleen Zellner’s (Chicago based exoneration specialist and attorney representing Calusinski) Brief for detail. http://medicalschoolpathology.com/MelApp.pdf
Former Lake County Coroner Dr Thomas Rudd raised questions as to the validity of Kingan’s autopsy and evidence henceforth. In fact Rudd testified on behalf of Calusinski in a recent evidentiary hearing regarding her request for a new trial. Rudd has a history of speaking up against possible misdemeanors carried out by those in power. Unsurprisingly, rocking the boat has attracted attention. The powers that be indicted Rudd on 5 counts of perjury in February of this year citing lies regarding nomination petitions. 3 months later Zellner filed her brief. The timing of Rudd’s indictment is not lost on me but take from it what you will. The only mistake made by Rudd in this writer’s opinion was to run for re-election back in 2016.
Lake County is not averse to having to pay out huge sums in damages. Juan Rivera was awarded 20 million dollars in a settlement in 2015 for a rape and murder he did not commit. Rivera spent 20 years in prison for those convictions.
Lake County certainly does not wish to be paying out another multi-million dollar lawsuit any time soon. That decision will most likely will be taken out of their hands in the future. Zellner has requested Oral Arguments in her May Brief filed with the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin Illinois. Whilst the State has since requested an extension, news should be heard within the coming weeks. Certainly within the next couple of months.
With the heartbreaking story of a 16-month-old child’s death, how easily can a tragedy be overcome without the apportion of blame? Valuing accountability over truth to attempt to find a reason for the death can only amplify the tragedy that has taken place. With Benjamin Kingan, accountability came to the fore, and with it came concealment of evidence and the undertones of control.
Benjamin’s was a case very much heard by the citizens of Lake County Illinois and now further afield. Murder fills the pages and screens of our media outlets on a daily basis. Yet the death of a 16-month-old boy will prick the senses of even the most apathetic and detached spectators. What makes one case more emotive than another and coercive can lead to clouded judgement and the need for culpability. The crying out for blame followed. It being not for justice but for appeasement and closure.
Whether or not Benjamin’s death could have been avoided is not a route I am willing to explore within this article. What I am willing to discuss is the single mindedness of prosecutors when attempting to gain a conviction. There is no possibility of a change of mind once the process of trying a suspect has begun. Apportioning blame is the agenda whether evidence points towards said blame or not. In this case when the evidence did not fit it was altered. If the physical evidence is not permissible, then the testimony of a State witness is opined in its place. It’s very difficult to feel a skull fracture when there is not one present however. Now that we have been enlightened with the physical evidence such testimony will be brought into question. Fortunately these questions will have to be asked. Whether it be in the next few months or further on down the road, this case will be heard. The State is loath to defer previous rulings and this case may end up being heard by that of a Federal Court.
All the time Melissa Calusinski remains in prison knowing her innocence.
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