Kansas Court of Appeals overturns Eudora woman’s murder conviction in baby’s death, orders new trial

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Carrody M. Buchhorn, 44, of Eudora, reacts after the jury's verdict is read finding her guilty of second-degree murder on Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Douglas County District Court. Buchhorn was accused of inflicting a fatal head injury on 9-month-old Oliver Ortiz on Sept. 29, 2016, at the Eudora home day care where she worked.

A Eudora woman’s 2018 murder conviction in the death of a 9-month-old boy was overturned on Friday by the Kansas Court of Appeals and sent back to the Douglas County District Court for a new trial.

The court ruled Carrody Buchhorn, now 47, received ineffective counsel during her 2018 trial, which denied her the right to a fair trial. The court said her attorneys failed to properly question a coroner’s ruling on how the boy died, among other issues.

However, the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office told the Journal-World it plans to appeal the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court.

A jury previously found Buchhorn guilty of second-degree murder after 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz was found unresponsive at a Eudora day care. She was convicted of his murder and was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

“It is not an easy decision to grant a new trial to someone who has been convicted of killing another human being,” the court wrote in its opinion on Buchhorn’s appeal. “But more important than the severity of the crime is the fundamental principle of American law — all accused must receive a fair trial, even those accused of killing a child. That legal principle has guided our decision to order a new trial for Carrody M. Buchhorn.”

photo by: Contributed photo

Oliver Ortiz

The court said Friday that Buchhorn was convicted after a coroner, Dr. Erik Mitchell, ruled the boy’s death was instantaneous and caused by a blow to the head. As the Journal-World previously reported, the coroner testified that Oliver had a fractured skull caused by an incident forceful enough — not a drop, fall or the actions of another child — to render him unresponsive right away and, without intervention, dead within minutes.

The court specifically said Buchhorn’s attorneys failed to properly investigate the coroner’s ruling and noted that the case hinged on that because there was no direct evidence connecting Buchhorn to the boy’s death.

“Buchhorn’s counsel failed to make a comprehensive investigation of Dr. Mitchell’s medical opinions, thus failing to equip Buchhorn with what she needed for a proper defense,” the court said in its opinion. “It was not a reasonable strategy that led counsel to decline to investigate Dr. Mitchell’s theory, but, rather, lack of thoroughness and preparation.”

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