Woman convicted in Eudora baby’s murder requests probation or shortened sentence

photo by: Sara Shepherd/Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Feb. 19, 2019, Carrody M. Buchhorn appears in Douglas County District Court during a hearing. She is seated with her attorneys Kevin Babbit, left, and William Skepnek.

Carrody M. Buchhorn is facing nearly 10 years in prison for the murder of an infant in her care.

She’s asking the judge to grant probation.

Jurors found Buchhorn, now 45, guilty of second-degree murder in the Sept. 29, 2016, death of 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” L. Ortiz. She has been in the custody of the Douglas County Jail, and her sentencing has been pending since the verdict came on July 26, 2018.

photo by: Contributed photo

Oliver Ortiz

Oliver was in Buchhorn’s care at a Eudora home day care when he became unresponsive and died. The coroner ruled the death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to the head.

Shortly after her trial, Buchhorn fired her retained defense team of Paul Morrison, a former Kansas attorney general, and Veronica Dersch. She then hired Kevin Babbit and William Skepnek, who requested that the judge grant a new trial based on several issues they raised.

The jury trial and deliberations spanned about nine days. In multiple daylong hearings after the verdict, Buchhorn’s new attorneys questioned medical experts who had testified in trial and some who hadn’t, as well as Buchhorn’s first defense team, regarding their handling of the case.

Both defense teams have argued that Buchhorn was wrongfully convicted. They have questioned the coroner’s qualifications and his theory of how Oliver died, argued that the prosecution’s evidence was circumstantial and contended that Buchhorn had no motive for the crime.

Before all the post-trial hearings, Buchhorn had been set for sentencing Oct. 18, 2018. In a ruling filed exactly one year later, Judge Sally Pokorny denied Buchhorn’s motion for judgment of acquittal or a new trial.

Babbit and Skepnek then filed on Buchhorn’s behalf a motion for departure from Kansas sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors and defense attorneys can request departures from the sentences prescribed by state law, and the judge can choose to impose them if she or he finds “substantial and compelling” reasons to do so.

Departures can be dispositional, meaning a sentence would be served on probation rather than in prison or vice versa, or durational, regarding the sentence length.

Buchhorn, who faces a presumed sentence of nine years and nine months in prison, is seeking both. Her attorneys argue in the motion that four main factors support a dispositional or durational departure.

Under state guidelines, Buchhorn would face the most lenient sentence allowable for the high-severity felony. On the other end of the spectrum, those with the most serious criminal histories would face nearly 39 years in prison.

Still, Buchhorn’s lawyers write, her “complete lack of any police contact” indicates that she won’t be a danger to society.

After her arrest, her lawyers contend that Buchhorn complied with all conditions of pretrial release when she was let out of the Douglas County Jail on bond. Since her bond was revoked and she was taken into custody, they write that she has been an “exceptional” inmate.

“Not only has Ms. Buchhorn followed all the rules at the jail, been able to qualify for the inmate worker program, and been designated a ‘trustee,'” the motion says, “Ms. Buchhorn has, at the request of Douglas County Jail staff, assisted in the management of the mental health of other inmates in the women’s pod.”

They write that she has a supportive family in the Lawrence area, and many family members and friends would be submitting letters to the court prior to the sentencing hearing.

Finally, they argue that Buchhorn is not a threat to society.

“Prior to these events, Ms. Buchhorn was a successful, law abiding mother, daughter, wife and friend,” the motion says. “She has been a full-time mother and childcare worker for over twenty years and has never during that period shown any anger or violence towards others.”

Given the option, the jury convicted Buchhorn of murder in the second degree “unintentionally under circumstances recklessly manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life,” rather than in the first degree.

“This difference is significant,” the motion says. “It is reasonable to believe that one who acts with reckless intent is significantly less a threat to society than one who acts with premeditation.”

In conclusion, the attorneys ask the judge to consider granting Buchhorn 48 months of probation with the requirement that she participate in mental health counseling, that she not be employed in any position that works with young children and that she follow all standard conditions of probation.

“Such a sentence would impose sufficient oversight to make sure Ms. Buchhorn is on the right path and would recognize that prison space should be reserved for violent offenders who present a threat,” the motion says.

And, should the court decide that probation is “a bridge too far under the circumstances of this case,” the motion says a sentence of 36 months in prison “would still recognize the severity of the offense charged and the harm that occurred as well as recognize the substantial and compelling reasons to depart below the guidelines sentence.”

The durational departure would shorten Buchhorn’s presumed prison sentence by more than two-thirds. She has already been in custody more than 15 months.

Dorothy Kliem, trial assistant for the Douglas County district attorney’s office, said via email Friday that the state intends to argue against the motion at the sentencing hearing.

“The State does not believe there are factual grounds to support a departure in this case,” she wrote.

Reached by phone Friday, Skepnek said the defense would have to make a decision based on how the judge rules, but there will be an appeal in the case, and he will “definitely” represent Buchhorn in the appeal as well.

“As is obvious from the motion for a new trial, people are making a big mistake and a very innocent woman is going to go to prison,” he said.

He said the jury still took days to deliberate, and despite the coroner’s theory that Buchhorn put the child face down on the floor and stomped on his head, the jurors did not find Buchhorn guilty of first-degree murder.

“I think there’s a great deal of confusion about what happened, and that’s because there’s no way Carrody Buchhorn did what they say she did,” Skepnek said.

Buchhorn’s sentencing is scheduled for Monday morning, more than three years after Oliver’s death.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

Related coverage

Oct. 24, 2019Judge denies new trial for Eudora day care worker convicted in infant’s murder

March 14, 2019Under scrutiny, coroner stands by ruling on Eudora baby’s death that led to caregiver’s murder conviction

Feb. 19, 2019Defense lawyers stand by trial performance in Eudora day care murder case, say client was wrongly convicted

Feb. 7, 2019Trial lawyer, former AG calls ineffective counsel claim ‘laughable’ at hearing for Eudora woman convicted of murdering baby

Dec. 21, 2018Medical experts skewer coroner’s ruling in baby’s death as convicted woman seeks new trial

Dec. 19, 2018Prosecutors offer rebuttal to attacks on coroner, defense team by woman convicted of murdering baby

Sept. 16, 2018Calling coroner’s ruling ‘junk science,’ lawyers seek new trial for Eudora woman convicted of murdering baby

Aug. 31, 2018Eudora woman convicted of baby’s murder seeking new trial; sentencing delayed

July 26, 2018Woman guilty of 2nd degree murder in baby’s death at Eudora home day care

July 25, 2018Jury deliberations still underway in Eudora day care murder trial

July 24, 2018Jury deliberating case of day care worker charged with murdering baby

July 23, 2018Defense expert in murder trial says baby’s injury could have occurred much earlier; jury sees video of autopsy

July 20, 2018Autopsy photos show internal injuries of baby allegedly murdered by Eudora day care worker

July 19, 2018Day care owner testifies at murder trial that she did not hurt infant; defendant’s police interview played for jury

July 18, 2018Eudora first responders detail attempts to revive baby

July 17, 2018Parents testify about their 9-month-old son’s death at Eudora day care

July 16, 2018Trial underway for woman accused of murdering baby at Eudora day care

May 25, 2018Murder trial approaching for Eudora day care worker charged with killing baby; wrongful death suit settled

April 19, 2018Eudora baby’s parents sue operators of home day care where he died

Jan. 26, 2018Murder trial pushed back 5 months for woman accused of killing baby at Eudora day care

Dec. 14, 2017Buttons picturing Eudora baby won’t be allowed at trial of woman accused of murdering him

Sept. 21, 2017Eudora day care worker must stand trial for murder in infant’s death, judge rules

June 21, 2017Judge denies request to modify house arrest condition for woman charged with murdering infant

April 27, 2017Affidavit: Woman accused of killing infant at Eudora day care was only person with access to the child

April 17, 2017Woman accused of infant’s death at a Eudora day care formally charged with first-degree murder

April 14, 2017District attorney files murder charge against woman accused of killing infant at a Eudora day care

March 21, 2017Investigation into death of infant at Eudora daycare nearing completion

Oct. 24, 2016Infant dies at Eudora day care, police say; facility’s license under emergency suspension


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.