Autopsy photos show internal injuries of baby allegedly murdered by Eudora day care worker
Jury also sees video of detective confronting defendant about death
photo by: Mike Yoder
Story updated at 6:57 p.m. July 20, 2018:
Key — and graphic — evidence was presented Friday at the trial of a day care worker charged with murdering a baby in her care.
The court viewed photos of the deceased infant at the hospital, then photos of major internal injuries that were not visible until the coroner cut into his body.
Chief among those was an inches-long fracture at the base of his skull, beneath a pool of dark internal bleeding that covered nearly a quarter of the back of the baby’s head.
Former Douglas County Coroner Erik Mitchell performed the autopsy on 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz the day after Oliver died. Mitchell testified Friday in Douglas County District Court, on the fifth day of a trial for Carrody M. Buchhorn, 44, of Eudora, who is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly killing Oliver on Sept. 29, 2016, at Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home, 1307 Chestnut Lane in Eudora.
Also on Friday, jurors saw videos of the death investigator interviewing a distraught Buchhorn at the day care immediately after Oliver’s death, and a detective interrogating her several days later.
Though the day care owner also was there that day, prosecutors say Buchhorn was the only adult alone with the children when Oliver’s fatal injuries occurred.
The trial is scheduled to continue Monday and run through Wednesday in Judge Sally Pokorny’s courtroom.
Buchhorn murder trial coverage
The courtroom has been full all week, with a crowd of nearly 50, mostly relatives and supporters of either Oliver or Buchhorn.
Mitchell ruled Oliver’s death a homicide, caused by blunt force trauma to the head, he testified.
Based on a lack of significant swelling around the fracture or signs of healing, Oliver died quickly after the injury, Mitchell said. He said the force needed to cause such an injury could not have come from another child or Oliver falling, and it would immediately halt electrical functions at the base of the brain, the area that tells the body to breathe, among other things.
“It would be immediately apparent,” Mitchell said. “If you are not immediately provided care, your body cannot provide what is necessary for continued survival, and so you will die.”
That fatal head injury, discovered only after Mitchell began cutting into the head layer by layer, was “an unanticipated finding,” he said.
In addition, photos taken by Mitchell showed another large area of internal bleeding on the upper left side of the head, a torn liver and blood accumulation in other abdominal organs.
While Mitchell said he did not know what caused the injuries, he said it is possible the abdominal trauma could have been caused by improper CPR.
Mitchell said the internal bruise on the front of Oliver’s head could have been related to the skull fracture due to a compression injury — such as an adult, but not a child, stepping on the back of Oliver’s head and compressing the front of the head into the ground.
Before displaying the head injury photos on the screen at the front of the courtroom, prosecutor C.J. Rieg asked Mitchell to explain to the jury what they were about to see.
“I don’t like to have to do this to you, but in order for me to demonstrate the findings that I’ve made, I’m kind of obliged to do this,” Mitchell said before proceeding.
Rieg asked Mitchell about a large goose-egg that medics and emergency room doctors saw on Oliver’s forehead only after an extended period of CPR.
Mitchell said that if the area had been injured, the knot would not be there instantly. But as long as blood was pumping — naturally or artificially, such as via CPR — it would develop afterward, he said.
Mitchell said that after blood quit pumping, the fluids would be absorbed back into the body, explaining why the goose-egg was gone the next day.
photo by: Mike Yoder
Defense challenges coroner
Buchhorn’s defense team intends to call on an outside medical expert to dispute the local coroner’s findings that the injury would have caused Oliver’s death nearly immediately, attorneys have said in pretrial motions.
Next week, they also intend to show a video of the autopsy, Buchhorn’s attorney Paul Morrison said.
On Friday, while cross-examining Mitchell, Morrison fired questions at the doctor that appeared to attack his credibility.
For one, Morrison pointed out that Mitchell had performed roughly 500 autopsies a year, which is significantly more than industry recommendations.
Morrison also questioned why no X-ray was performed on Oliver’s body — something that’s supposed to be done on all infant autopsies and would reveal any signs of healing child abuse injuries.
Mitchell said that was an oversight on the part of him and his office.
“This body, unfortunately, got out without being X-rayed,” Mitchell said. “I have to take full responsibility.”
Morrison also pressed Mitchell about signs that Oliver’s injury was fresh when he died.
Mitchell very recently left Frontier Forensics in Kansas City, Kan., where Douglas County’s autopsies are performed. He said he started this month as chief medical examiner in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Detective confronts Buchhorn
Video of Buchhorn’s second police interview, played for the court Friday morning during testimony of Lawrence Police Department Detective Jamie Lawson, shows Lawson quizzing her for two hours about the minutiae of a typical busy day at the day care.
Through all the feedings, diaper changes and naps before 911 was called around 3 p.m. — when Buchhorn picked up Oliver from his crib and he was unresponsive — Buchhorn notes nothing out of the ordinary.
She says she didn’t know of anything, accidental or otherwise, that could have possibly led to the child’s death.
At that point, the interview takes a hard turn.
“I know that his death is a result of him being in you guys’ care, and I can absolutely prove that,” Lawson tells Buchhorn in the Oct. 4, 2016, video. “There is absolutely no way that you guys don’t know what happened … there was an incident that was traumatic enough that would have caused his death.”
photo by: Mike Yoder
When Lawson confronts Buchhorn with law enforcement’s discovery of Oliver’s injuries, she begins to cry.
She says — over and over during the ensuing hour of interrogation — that she does not know what happened to Oliver. She places her hands on the table and up to her face, breathing heavily, opening her mouth in apparent astonishment and crying intermittently.
“I do not know, I swear to God,” Buchhorn says. “… I would never hurt him.”
Initially, Buchhorn tries to get more details from Lawson.
“What was wrong with him?” she asks. “Please just tell me.”
Lawson does not reveal specifics and explains that’s strategic, to ensure he doesn’t put answers into her head.
“I can tell you that his injuries were severe, and his death came rather quickly, and it happened in a certain time frame, and it is abundantly clear that it could not have happened by a child,” Lawson says.
Buchhorn asks about Oliver’s ribs and said that when she was giving Oliver CPR she was “pressing really hard.” Then she again asks Lawson for more details about the coroner’s findings, which he does not give her.
“Tell me so I know. Did I hurt him? I did not hurt him,” Buchhorn said. “I don’t know; I’ve never hurt a baby before.”
Lawson continues, suggesting that perhaps Buchhorn accidentally did something and was afraid to talk about it. He also asks whether she used any drugs or alcohol that could have impaired her memory.
She tells him she takes sleeping medication at night but “it does not make me do weird things,” as well as medication for anxiety and depression. She says she drank alcohol at some point either the evening before or that day — it wasn’t clear from the video — but not a large amount, gesturing to a plastic water bottle to describe the size of the mixed drink she had.
Lawson tells Buchhorn that the day care owner, Gina Brunton, is in an interview room next door being asked similar questions. He tells her that Oliver’s parents still don’t know their baby’s death wasn’t just SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, and says he needs an explanation.
“Carrody, there’s more to this. We’re just simply asking for you to share that with us, get it out on the table,” Lawson said. “Go ahead and fill in the blanks … the blanks of what happened to Ollie.”
Buchhorn continues repeating that she did not hurt the baby and doesn’t know what happened to him.
“I know I didn’t, there’s nothing I did. There is nothing I did to hurt him. Why would I hurt him?” she says.
On-scene interview shown
Death investigator Will Hallagin, of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, also testified Friday.
Prosecutors showed a series of photos that Hallagin took of Oliver, deceased, strapped to a cot at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
The photos elicited emotion from many in the courtroom, including Oliver’s mother. His father was not in the courtroom when they were displayed.
In the photos, a large raised knot was visible on Oliver’s forehead above his left eye, as well as a small abrasion on the back of his head, which caregivers said he’d gotten recently by scooting backward on the carpet while they tried to change his diaper.
He had no other visible injuries.
Prosecutors played a video of Hallagin’s interview with Buchhorn at the day care immediately after Oliver’s death.
Contrary to earlier testimony by first responders — who said that when they arrived, Oliver was still pinkish but with blue lips and was not 98.6 degrees but still warm — Buchhorn said that when she got Oliver out of his crib and realized he was unresponsive, he was “purple” and “so cold.”
In the interview, Buchhorn alternates between calmness and hysteria, sobbing when she is told Oliver didn’t make it.
In court, her attorney asked the death investigator about Buchhorn’s demeanor.
“She was emotional when you told her about this tragedy, right?” Morrison said.
Hallagin said yes, and also agreed with Morrison that people all react differently in such situations.
“That is true,” Hallagin said.
• March 21, 2017 — Investigation into death of infant at Eudora daycare nearing completion