Day care owner testifies at murder trial that she did not hurt infant; jurors see video of defendant’s police interview
photo by: Journal-World file photo
Story updated 7:12 p.m. July 19, 2018:
There were only two women caring for 9-month-old Oliver Ortiz at a Eudora home day care the day he died.
One of those women testified under oath Thursday that she did not hurt Oliver.
Gina Brunton, who owned and ran Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home out of the basement of her house, began testifying Wednesday and returned to the witness stand Thursday morning in Douglas County District Court in the first-degree murder trial against her sole full-time employee, Carrody M. Buchhorn, 44, of Eudora.
Oliver became unresponsive at the day care, 1307 Chestnut Lane, the afternoon of Sept. 29, 2016, and paramedics couldn’t revive him. The coroner ruled that he died from blunt force trauma to the head and torso.
Brunton said it began as a typical day, and she didn’t notice anything unusual about Oliver. Though she was outside and upstairs for periods of the day — away from Buchhorn and the babies — she said she never saw Oliver with injuries until Buchhorn picked him up from his afternoon nap and he was blue-lipped and limp.
Prosecutor Mark Simpson questioned Brunton, concluding with this:
“Ms. Brunton, I want to ask you, do you know what happened to Oliver?”
“No, I do not.”
“Did you hurt Oliver?
“No, I did not.”
photo by: Nick Krug
The defense indicated in opening statements that they expected Buchhorn herself to testify later in the trial, though she has not taken the stand yet.
Attorney Paul Morrison cross-examined Brunton, seemingly emphasizing her statements that at times throughout the day Oliver might have been around some of the older children — of which there were 10 that day, ranging from 8 months to 4 years old.
Morrison’s questions also reiterated that Brunton said she never saw anything happen to Oliver and, though upstairs at times, usually could have heard loud noises coming from Oliver’s crib area near the bottom of the stairs.
Brunton said that even after the unresponsive Oliver was rushed to the hospital, she thought it must have been because of “SIDS,” or sudden infant death syndrome.
The autopsy revealed otherwise.
Buchhorn murder trial coverage
The day after Oliver died, Eudora Police Department Detective Daniel Flick watched the coroner perform the autopsy. Later that day, after drawing up and obtaining search warrants for the two women’s homes and electronics, Flick interviewed Buchhorn at the police station beginning at 10:55 p.m.
Prosecutors played video of that interview in court Thursday.
In the video, Buchhorn appeared with chin-length brown hair, wearing glasses, a black T-shirt with a graphic on the front, a black hooded jacket and sneakers.
While being questioned, Buchhorn leaned back and forth in her chair and at times laughed intermittently while answering questions. She said she was tired and hadn’t slept much.
First, Flick asked Buchhorn about working at the day care.
Buchhorn said that based on state rules about the number of caregivers and ages of the children, the day care was over capacity.
She said she worked there because she liked the daytime hours and that Brunton had hired her from another day care where she’d been working fewer hours.
Buchhorn complained about her boss, saying she didn’t think she was treated fairly and earned just over minimum wage. She said she felt like Brunton didn’t always do her share when the two were working together and that Brunton went upstairs routinely during the day.
Buchhorn moved on to recounting a play-by-play of the day, which matched what Brunton previously described in court.
Buchhorn also described the moment she picked up Oliver from his afternoon nap.
She told Flick he was lying strangely in his crib, on his stomach but with one arm straight out to the side instead of curled under himself like usual.
She said the lights were still dim when she picked up the baby, and he didn’t either cuddle up to her or cry like he usually did.
“I was like, how is he still sleeping?” Buchhorn told the detective, in the video. “And I was laughing because I thought he was still asleep.”
She said that’s when Brunton saw Oliver and screamed. Buchhorn said she looked down, noticed his eyelids were blue and screamed for Brunton to call 911.
She said she slapped Oliver’s face and shook him to get him to respond, and when he didn’t she dropped to the ground and started doing CPR.
Buchhorn said she blew into Oliver’s nose and mouth, covering both with her own mouth, and began chest compressions with her fingertips. She said she became frantic when Oliver wasn’t responding, and began to compress more forcefully.
“Like, I felt like I was hur…” Buchhorn stopped mid-sentence, choked up and cried while describing this to Flick.
She buried her face in her hands when Flick put an infant mannequin on the interview table, slid it toward her and asked her to demonstrate how she performed CPR.
“It’s definitely the worst thing I have ever been through, oh my God,” Buchhorn said in the video.
In the courtroom, Buchhorn appeared to become emotional watching this portion of the video, sniffing and wiping an eye.
After the video, Flick, the lead detective on the case, said that between the Eudora Police Department, the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, at least 20 law enforcement officers worked on the case.
He said they searched Brunton’s home and the day care, Buchhorn’s home, and the phones of Buchhorn and her husband and Brunton and her daughter. They collected physical evidence, including Oliver’s portable crib and sheet and the two day care providers’ clothing and shoes.
Flick said a children’s forensic interviewer from the Lawrence police department talked to all the other children there that day who were old enough to talk, along with their parents. Oliver’s parents also were interviewed.
Brunton and Buchhorn were both interviewed multiple times.
Thursday’s testimony concluded with a video of Buchhorn’s second — and hours longer — formal police interview, this one conducted by Lawrence Police Department Detective Jamie Lawson on Oct. 4, 2016.
It’s several days after Oliver’s death, during daytime hours, and Buchhorn appears more composed.
She expresses nervousness about being interviewed, questioning why Lawson read her Miranda rights.
“I just figure you’re doing your job, which I am fine with,” Buchhorn told him. “I just don’t like feeling like I’m doing something wrong.”
Lawson said that with a baby dying outside the presence of the parents, especially in a day care setting, “tough questions” need to be asked. He said having rights read does not necessarily mean the person being questioned is under arrest.
Lawson asked Buchhorn many of the same questions Flick did, going into even greater detail — from precisely which child arrived when, what they ate and where, to what was in Oliver’s diaper every time she checked it that day — and Buchhorn’s answers were consistent.
She added that a few weeks earlier, when she picked Oliver up from a nap, he seemed sleepy, “lethargic,” and “in a daze.” She said he had done that “a couple other times” and she felt like something was wrong, so she called his mother, who took him home.
She said in the weeks before his death, Oliver did have an ear infection that still bothered him even after a round of oral antibiotics.
She said he’d always cried a lot more than other babies.
“He is a crier, I mean, all the time crying,” she said.
However, the week before he died he’d been “an angel,” she said. “Last week was his best week ever.”
Attorneys stopped the interrogation video at 5 p.m. and plan to play the rest of it Friday morning.
Buchhorn remains on house arrest. Her trial, taking place in Judge Sally Pokorny’s courtroom, is scheduled to run through July 25.
• March 21, 2017 — Investigation into death of infant at Eudora daycare nearing completion