Buttons picturing Eudora baby won’t be allowed at trial of woman accused of murdering him

Eudora resident Carrody Buchhorn, top left, is accused of killing 9-month-old Oliver Ortiz, bottom left, while he was in her care at Eudora's Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home, right.

Family members of an infant homicide victim won’t be allowed to wear items bearing the baby’s photo when the woman accused of killing him goes on trial next year, a judge said.

Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny said Thursday that such items would not be allowed in the courtroom during the weeklong jury trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 12.

Carrody M. Buchhorn, 43, of Eudora, is charged with one count of first-degree murder in the case. Buchhorn is accused of killing 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz on Sept. 29, 2016, while he was in her care at Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home at 1307 Chestnut Lane in Eudora.

Oliver was found unresponsive at the home day care that afternoon, and paramedics were unable to revive him. The coroner ruled the baby’s death a homicide, caused by blunt force trauma to the head and torso.

At Thursday’s hearing, Pokorny and attorneys discussed what will and won’t be allowed at the trial.

Buchhorn’s attorneys are Paul Morrison — former Kansas attorney general and Johnson County district attorney — and Veronica Dersch.

Dersch asked the judge whether she planned to block spectators in the gallery, in view of the jury, from wearing “sympathy-seeking propaganda” such as T-shirts or buttons bearing Oliver’s photo.

The baby’s relatives and supporters have worn such buttons picturing the smiling little boy to hearings so far, including Thursday’s.

“They’ll be stricken,” Pokorny said of the buttons.

Buchhorn’s attorneys also asked the court to bar “unnecessarily gruesome” images from being shown to the jury.

“In this case, autopsy photographs are going to have a potential for far greater prejudice than the average homicide case due to the simple fact that they are of an infant,” Dersch wrote, in a motion to limit images presented in court. “Such photos by their nature may have a tendency to elicit sympathy and prejudice and to inflame the minds of the jury.”

The judge asked defense attorneys and prosecutors to exchange all images they possess, then determine which are necessary evidence and which should be stricken or blurred. If the sides can’t agree, Pokorny said she would schedule a hearing to decide.

Buchhorn’s attorneys said that an out-of-state forensic pathologist reviewing the coroner’s findings and evidence would likely dispute the timing and nature of the baby’s injuries and how quickly he would have died from them.

That information would play into another request from Buchhorn’s attorneys: that they be allowed to assert evidence that someone other than Buchhorn could have killed Oliver.

The day care owner was at the home and also fed and checked on Oliver throughout the day, Buchhorn’s attorneys emphasized in a motion filed prior to Thursday’s hearing. They said the owner’s husband also was there for part of the day and that Oliver was around older children who conceivably could have hurt him, too.

Buchhorn was charged with “a paltry amount of evidence,” the motion says. The defense isn’t trying to blame “any specific third party,” but wants to be allowed to present evidence that any number of things could have happened to the child — including an accident — resulting in his death.

Prosecutors objected.

“The only person that was with Ollie when the injury occurred was the defendant,” prosecutor C.J. Rieg said. “The court has to deny this, because there is no evidence in front of it that connects a third party.”

Pokorny said she would wait to see if the defense’s expert had different conclusions than the coroner, and that the matter might have to be argued at a recess during the trial.

Buchhorn was charged with murder in April of this year and is currently under house arrest. Following a preliminary hearing in September, the judge bound her over for trial on the charge, and she pleaded not guilty.

Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home closed down shortly after Oliver’s death.