‘I would never, ever, ever harm a child’: Woman whose murder case was dismissed discusses ordeal as possible retrial looms

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Carrody M. Buchhorn talks with her attorney William Skepnek during a break in court proceedings on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, in Douglas County District Court.

Ollie Ortiz would have celebrated his seventh birthday this month, and if Carrody Buchhorn could talk to his parents, she would tell them that she is not the reason their baby is gone.

“I really want them to know that I absolutely did nothing to hurt Ollie and I loved him and I still love him,” she told the Journal-World Monday, three days after a murder case against her was dismissed and she was freed from custody after nearly six years. “I mean, I wouldn’t do anything to any baby, but I had him every day. It wasn’t like it was some kid that was my second day watching. I had him every day for months.”

“I would never, ever, ever harm a child,” added Buchhorn, who had worked in child care for five years at the time of Ollie’s death and who had known Ollie practically since birth. “I wouldn’t do that.”

It’s something she has been saying ever since she was arrested seven months after 9-month-old Ollie’s death, but she would like to say it again to Rob and Kaylen Ortiz because as a mother of two sons she knows that their grief will be with them forever.

Buchhorn spoke to the Journal-World at her south Lawrence home, with three family dogs napping in the living room and a Christmas tree surrounded by a stack of presents. Her husband, Tim, who’s in the Army, works in Topeka and was deployed overseas through much of her ordeal.

Buchhorn — who has been in jail, prison or under house arrest since 2017 — got to remove an ankle monitor on Friday and became officially free to go about her life, at least for now.

This is the first year she has been able to go Christmas shopping, but as a heap of deliveries outside her door indicated, she hasn’t availed herself of the new freedom.

That’s in part because she’s afraid of encountering people who have made death threats against her.

“It’s crazy,” she said, describing a scarier continuation of the “baby killer” taunts she experienced in prison, where at least there was some security.

But for every person who has treated her poorly, there’s been someone to prop her up, she said.

“My gosh, I have so much support,” she said, referring to friends and family and to her legal team. She even wears her late mother’s necklace and has a likeness of the necklace and her mother’s initials, BJR, tattooed on her left forearm. On her right arm are the names of her kids, Matthew and Gregory — permanent reminders of familial love and support.

She describes one sister-in-law as her “rock,” not least because her persistence led to the hiring of William Skepnek, who handled Buchhorn’s successful appeal.

Ollie’s death

Buchhorn was working at the Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home in Eudora on Sept. 29, 2016, when she said she found Ollie unresponsive in his crib. She tried to revive him with CPR and said she was “devastated” when medical personnel arrived and were also unsuccessful.

photo by: Contributed

Oliver Ortiz

The cause of Ollie’s death has been a mystery as expert witnesses have battled about it through the years.

There seemed to be consensus on one thing: An autopsy revealed an inches-long fracture at the base of Ollie’s skull. But how and when that fracture got there was hotly contested. Former county coroner Erik Mitchell ruled Ollie’s death a homicide, saying that the fracture was caused by an incident forceful enough to shut down his brainstem – something he referred to as “depolarization.” But the defense expert at Buchhorn’s trial testified that the skull fracture was an old injury — at least three or perhaps even seven days old.

The cause-of-death issue was the reason Buchhorn’s conviction was ultimately overturned and is now the reason why a second murder case against Buchhorn has been dismissed, although the case could be refiled. Prosecutors said they would not rely on the then-coroner’s depolarization theory, which Skepnek has aggressively attacked as “junk science.” But the state, which the court claimed had a year to find a new expert witness, has so far failed to meet the court’s requirements.

Looming retrial

Though Buchhorn, 48, is free for now — a freedom that she estimates cost her family around half a million dollars in legal fees, including the loss of their Eudora home — District Attorney Suzanne Valdez’s office is appealing the dismissal of her case. That means the prospect of being tried a second time looms heavily.

Though Buchhorn’s attorneys at her first trial failed her — the Kansas Court of Appeals found that they provided ineffective assistance of counsel — Buchhorn is confident in her current legal team.

“I didn’t do anything,” she insisted. “My attorney told me the hardest cases to try are the ones where the people are innocent.”

photo by: Contributed

Carrody Buchhorn

When asked why she thinks she was identified as a suspect in the first place, she said she had given that a lot of thought — including the idea that people naturally needed to assess blame, especially in something as inexplicable and horrible as a baby’s death. She said the common perception that she had been alone with Ollie the day he died and that no one else had access was inaccurate.

She also said she came to believe that her demeanor played a big part in her arrest, not just her tattoos and what she called her “really bad potty-mouth” — things that she said made her appear “vulgar” and perhaps criminally minded to people who didn’t know her — but also the fact that she didn’t cry at certain times when law enforcement might have expected a particular emotional reaction.

“Well, my tears were gone because I had been crying for the past 24 hours,” she told the Journal-World.

Members of Ollie’s family were contacted for this story and declined to comment.

The District Attorney’s Office is adamant about retrying the case against Buchhorn.

“We believe the court erred and we are seeking appellate review as provided by law,” the office told the Journal-World Monday.

— Journal-World reporter Chris Conde contributed to this report.


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