Eudora day care worker must stand trial for murder in infant’s death, judge rules
A moment in court Thursday morning captured the certain gravity of a murder case in which the victim was an infant — when a coroner who has performed more than 11,000 autopsies in nearly 40 years as a medical examiner broke down in tears on the witness stand.
Dr. Erik Mitchell testified about his procedures and observations during an external examination of the body of 9-month-old Oliver Ortiz in September. Then the doctor recounted what he did next, before beginning dissections required for the internal examination of the child’s remains.
“I followed the body to the Midwest Transplant Network, where the family had graciously agreed …”
Mitchell paused to compose himself.
“I retrieved the heart for transplant.”
Following the four-hour preliminary hearing in Douglas County District Court, Judge Sally Pokorny ordered the Eudora home day care worker accused in Oliver’s death to stand trial for murder.
The judge scheduled a seven-day jury trial for Carrody Buchhorn, 43, of Eudora, to begin Feb. 12.
“I find that a felony has been committed,” Pokorny said.
Pokorny said her ruling was based heavily on the coroner’s testimony. She said there was no evidence showing that anyone else was with Oliver during the window of time he was mortally injured and that “evidence at this point points to Ms. Buchhorn.”
Buchhorn entered a plea of not guilty, through her attorney Paul Morrison.
Oliver became unresponsive and died Sept. 29, 2016, while he was in Buchhorn’s care at Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home, 1307 Chestnut Lane in Eudora.
photo by: Contributed
On April 14, 2017, Buchhorn was arrested and charged with one count of first-degree murder.
Mitchell ruled Oliver’s death a homicide, caused by blunt force trauma to the head and torso.
“This is a homicide,” Mitchell testified during the hearing. “This is injury that is inflicted on another person leading to their death, and there is no accidental scenario that I can create” to explain the type of complex injuries Oliver received.
Mitchell described multiple injuries to Oliver’s body, including a fracture at the base of his skull, a large bruise on the upper portion of his head, swelling on his forehead and trauma to his liver and other internal tissues.
First responders to the scene testified that Oliver was unresponsive and cool to the touch when they arrived, and that efforts to revive him at the scene, in the ambulance and in the hospital emergency room failed.
Buchhorn was one of the two daily caregivers at the day care, along with the woman who ran the day care out of the basement of her home.
Lawrence Police Detective Jamie Lawson, who interviewed Buchhorn, said she told that him Oliver — who she described as “typically a crier” — had been acting normally that day. Buchhorn told the detective that she laid him in a portable crib for a nap that afternoon, but when she went to wake him later, he was unresponsive.
Lawson said according to his interviews, Buchhorn picked up Oliver and made a comment about him seeming “out of it” before the day care owner, seeing him limp, yelled that something was wrong and called 911 as Buchhorn began CPR.
Buchhorn’s attorneys questioned witnesses about the number of first responders on the scene, their CPR practices, information that could pinpoint the time frame of Oliver’s injuries and possible other scenarios that could have caused them. They also reiterated that the day care owner was involved in Oliver’s care at times throughout the day.
“Perhaps we will never know exactly what happened with this infant,” Morrison said, in closing arguments against binding Buchhorn over for trial. “You have not heard one bit of evidence that my client did this to this kid, not a shred.”
Prosecutor C.J. Rieg, however, reiterated the coroner’s testimony about the use of force required to inflict Oliver’s injuries, and the rough time frame they must have occurred. She said during that time frame, testimony showed the day care owner was not in the basement with the other children or Oliver.
“The testimony has been that the only person who had the opportunity to cause these injuries to Oliver Ortiz was the defendant,” Rieg said.
More than two dozen observers were in the courtroom for Thursday’s hearing.
About half of those in attendance sat behind Buchhorn and her defense attorneys. The other half sat behind assistant district attorneys prosecuting the murder case, wearing round buttons with photos of Oliver.