Sentencing for woman convicted of baby’s murder now pushed back until 6 months after jury’s decision
photo by: Sara Shepherd
The sentencing date for a woman convicted of murdering a baby at a Eudora day care has been pushed back again, this time until mid-January — nearly six months after the jury’s decision.
Her attorneys’ elaborate motion for a new trial and problems finding available days on the court’s packed schedule combined to create the lengthy delay.
During a brief hearing Monday in Douglas County District Court, Judge Sally Pokorny rescheduled sentencing until Jan. 18 for Carrody M. Buchhorn, 44, of Eudora.
That is, if sentencing occurs.
Prior to that date, Pokorny set aside two full days to hear witness testimony and arguments and rule on the motion for a new trial. Those hearings will be Dec. 21 and Jan. 15, because the court couldn’t find two back-to-back days when attorneys and the judge were all available.
On July 26 — following a trial that included parents’ testimony and extensive autopsy photos of the baby’s body — a jury convicted Buchhorn of second-degree murder for unintentionally but recklessly killing 9-month-old Oliver Ortiz, of Eudora.
The afternoon he became unresponsive, Sept. 29, 2016, Oliver was in Buchhorn’s care at Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home, 1307 Chestnut Lane in Eudora.
Oliver’s serious injuries were not discovered until the autopsy.
The coroner ruled the infant’s death a homicide after finding a fracture at the base of his skull surrounded by internal bleeding, more internal bleeding on the opposite side of his head, plus internal abdominal injuries. Then-coroner Erik Mitchell testified that the fatal skull fracture was caused by an incident forceful enough — not a drop, fall or the actions of another child — to render the child unresponsive right away and, without intervention, dead within minutes.
Buchhorn got new attorneys before her initial sentencing date of Aug. 31.
In their request for a new trial, attorneys William Skepnek and Kevin Babbit argued that the coroner wasn’t qualified to assess such a head injury, that the coroner’s theory of death is medical “nonsense” and that Buchhorn’s trial attorneys were ineffective because they failed to attempt to bar the coroner from testifying in the first place.
To fortify those arguments at upcoming hearings, Skepnek said he planned to bring in two child neurology specialists from out of state, one or two outside lawyers and Buchhorn’s lead trial lawyer, Paul Morrison, who is a former Kansas attorney general and Johnson County district attorney.
photo by: Contributed photo
Prosecutor Mark Simpson said the state also intended to put witnesses on the stand but did not specify whom.
The state hasn’t yet filed a formal response to Buchhorn’s post-trial accusations and on Monday received an extension to do so until Oct. 29.
Simpson noted that Buchhorn’s written motion and supporting documents, which include transcripts from parts of the trial, is more than 600 pages long.
“It’s not a normal filing,” Simpson said.
Simpson added that the gist of the state’s response wasn’t going to be a mystery.
“We disagree with their analysis, and we think Dr. Mitchell’s testimony is supported by the science,” Simpson said.
If the judge rules against Buchhorn and she does proceed to sentencing, her attorneys want to make more arguments at that time, Skepnek said.
They are raising what’s called a Daubert challenge — in which the validity and admissibility of expert testimony is challenged — in their motion for a new trial and then again at sentencing, in an attempt to get the coroner’s testimony thrown out from consideration altogether.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever done this before,” Skepnek said, of raising a Daubert challenge during the midsentencing process as opposed to pretrial.
Buchhorn, who was on house arrest prior to her conviction, is now jailed without bond pending sentencing.
According to the DA’s office, Buchhorn faces 109 to 123 months, or approximately nine to 10 years, in prison under Kansas sentencing guidelines.