At murder trial, parents testify about their 9-month-old son’s death at Eudora day care

photo by: Nick Krug

Carrody M. Buchhorn, 44, of Eudora, listens to the opening arguments from her attorney Veronica Dersch, not pictured, in the courtroom at the Douglas County Courthouse on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. Buchhorn is accused of murder in the death of 9-month-old Oliver Ortiz, Eudora, who died while in the care of Buchhorn at the Sunshine Kids Group Daycare in Eudora on Sept. 29, 2016. In front is Buchhorn's attorney Paul Morrison.

A Douglas County jury heard tearful testimony Tuesday from the mother of a 9-month-old boy who died at a Eudora day care center nearly two years ago.

Kaylen Ortiz, the mother of Oliver Ortiz, cried on the witness stand as she recounted the phone call she received around 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2016, from her husband, Robert, saying paramedics were coming because their son was unresponsive and the operators of the day care center were giving him CPR.

Robert Ortiz also testified about that same conversation, only speaking more calmly in soft, low tones, using only short sentences in response to each question.

The couple were the first to testify in the trial of Carrody M. Buchhorn, 44, of Eudora, who was an employee of the Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home and is charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Opening arguments began around 1:30 p.m. after a jury of seven men and five women was selected to hear the case.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Simpson said Buchhorn is being charged because she is the only person who could have injured Oliver Ortiz, although he did not offer an explanation of how she allegedly inflicted the injuries or what her motivation might have been.

Although the day care center was owned by Gina Brunton, who ran the operation out of her home at 1307 Chestnut Lane in Eudora, Simpson said it was Buchhorn who had been alone with the children for at least 45 minutes before Oliver Ortiz was found, ashen-looking and unresponsive.

Oliver Ortiz was taken by ambulance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. Kaylen Ortiz, who works as a nurse at the hospital, said she was able to see him in the emergency room as medical staff tried to revive him. She also testified that he had a large “goose-egg” bump on his forehead.

In his opening statement, Simpson said witnesses would later testify that Oliver also had bruises to his torso and one of his ears. But the cause of death, he said, was a fractured skull caused by blunt force trauma.

But defense attorney Veronica Dersch said in her opening statement that the injuries to Oliver’s torso and ear could have occurred as first responders were trying to revive him. And she said an independent autopsy showed that the fracture on the back of Oliver’s skull showed signs of healing, indicating that the injury could have occurred days before his death and suggesting that any number of other people could have been responsible.

Also on the defense team is Paul Morrison, a former Kansas attorney general and Johnson County district attorney.

Dersch also cited the county’s own coroner as saying it was impossible to tell how old the injuries were, and she said that such time estimates are only made in TV crime dramas. She said the coroner will also testify that murders of infants are usually committed by people who are thrust into a caregiving role and either don’t want it or can’t cope with it.

Prosecutors, however, appeared ready for that defense, noting that Kaylen Ortiz is a licensed practicing nurse who works in a neurology clinic at LMH and had been trained to recognize the symptoms of traumatic head injury.

Under direct examination, Kaylen Ortiz said Oliver had not shown any of the classic signs of a head injury, including vomiting, dizziness, disorientation or chronic pain, in the weeks before his death.

She did, however, testify about the minor difficulties involved in his birth on Dec. 28, 2015, when doctors had to induce labor, and how he could be difficult at times, prone to crying, having a hard time going to sleep and not having regular eating patterns. She said the family often used phrases like “Ollie time” to refer to his irregular patterns.

Jurors on Tuesday also heard the audio recording of the 911 call that Brunton made asking for emergency medical service while Buchhorn was administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Testimony will continue starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The trial is expected to last a week and a half.


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