The State of Kansas does not want to compensate a woman who was imprisoned for murder; the prosecution’s own expert said the baby died from natural causes

photo by: Contributed

Carrody Buchhorn

Updated at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, May 4

The State of Kansas is asking that a Lawrence woman’s request for compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment be denied — even after an expert for the prosecution determined that the child the woman was accused of killing had died not from homicide but from natural causes.

The woman, Carrody Buchhorn, is seeking — pursuant to state law — nearly $400,000 from the state and a formal exoneration, as the Journal-World has reported.

Buchhorn, 48, was convicted in 2018 of murdering 9-month-old Oliver Ortiz in 2016 at the Eudora day care where she worked. Her conviction was overturned on appeal, and Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, after a protracted legal battle, eventually found a new forensic pathology expert who determined that Oliver had not died from child abuse. The DA’s office — nearly seven years after Oliver’s death — then announced that it would “cease prosecution” due to a lack of evidence.

William Skepnek, Buchhorn’s attorney, told the Journal-World in April that he believed there was enough evidence to prove Buchhorn’s innocence and that he hoped that Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach’s office would choose not to contest the petition for compensation.

But that hope was dashed this week when Assistant Attorney General Shon Qualseth asked the Douglas County District Court to award Buchhorn nothing.

Under state law, people are entitled to $65,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, and Buchhorn’s petition states that she was on house arrest or in the Douglas County Jail or the Topeka Correctional Facility for a total of 2,072 days, or more than 5.5 years.

The state in its response to Buchhorn’s petition admits only that Buchhorn was arrested and convicted of second-degree murder, that her conviction was overturned on appeal, that the district court dismissed her case and that the DA issued a press release and has not refiled charges. The state denies all other claims made by Buchhorn or says it’s “without sufficient information to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations.”

In January, Buchhorn was added to the National Registry of Exonerations, which is not a legal finding but a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at the University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law.

Buchhorn told the Journal-World in December 2022 that, in addition to the agony of being accused, the cost of her defense was then hovering around half a million dollars, including the loss of her family’s Eudora home and other family property.

Throughout the legal proceedings against Buchhorn, the cause of Oliver’s death was the main point in dispute. The former Douglas County coroner, Erik Mitchell, ruled Oliver’s death a homicide, saying that a skull fracture was caused by an incident forceful enough to shut down his brainstem — something Mitchell referred to as “depolarization.” The appellate court found that Buchhorn’s trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel by not doing enough to oppose Mitchell’s “depolarization” finding.

The DA’s office said it would not rely on Mitchell’s controversial finding in retrying Buchhorn. Prosecutors, however, struggled to produce an expert on the cause of death, and in January decided to cease prosecuting Buchhorn after Dr. Jane W. Turner, in a report to prosecutors, concluded that Oliver had pre-existing conditions, including a congenital heart defect and bacterial and viral infections, that contributed to his death. The skull fracture that Mitchell had relied on so heavily also was pre-existing, Turner wrote. Oliver, she concluded, “died from natural disease and pathophysiologic processes unrelated to child abuse.”


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