Kansas Supreme Court to review case of woman whose conviction was overturned in Eudora day care death
photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World
The Kansas Supreme Court has scheduled a review of the case of Carrody Buchhorn, a Eudora woman who was convicted four years ago in the death of a baby at a day care where she worked.
A jury found Buchhorn guilty in 2018 of second-degree murder after 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz was found unresponsive at a Eudora day care. She was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
In August 2021, however, the Kansas Court of Appeals overturned that conviction and sent the case back to the Douglas County District Court for a new trial.
The appeals court ruled that Buchhorn received ineffective assistance of counsel, 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.
The coroner, Dr. Erik Mitchell, determined that Oliver’s death was instantaneous and caused by a blow to the head. He 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 appeals court ruled that Buchhorn’s trial attorneys — Paul Morrison and Veronica Dersch — failed to properly investigate Mitchell’s determination, which the case hinged on because there was no direct evidence connecting Buchhorn to Oliver’s death.
The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office appealed the appellate court’s ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court, which is now scheduled to review the case on March 30.
In its petition for review, the state argues that the appeals court erred in its application of the standard of review by reweighing the evidence, reassessing witness credibility and resolving evidentiary conflicts in a way that conflicted with the district court’s factual findings. The state further argued that the appeals court erred in its application of the standard of review by imposing a heightened standard for effective assistance of counsel.
In a cross-petition for review, Buchhorn is asking the high court to review the appeals court ruling on the admissibility of the coroner’s expert testimony. The Supreme Court granted both the petition for review and cross-petition.