State getting new expert to review other expert’s medical findings as woman once accused of killing baby sues for wrongful imprisonment
photo by: Contributed
The Kansas Attorney General’s Office plans to retain an expert to review the cause of death of a baby who is at the center of a Lawrence woman’s claim of wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
The woman, Carrody Buchhorn, is seeking $368,986 in damages and $25,000 in attorney fees, in accordance with state law, for the 2,072 days she spent on house arrest, in county jail or in a Kansas prison after she was charged, tried and convicted of the murder of 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz, who was found unresponsive in her care at a Eudora day care on Sept. 29, 2016.
Buchhorn’s 2018 conviction was overturned in August of 2021 after the appeals court determined that Buchhorn received ineffective assistance of counsel during her 2018 trial. The court said her attorneys failed to properly question a coroner’s “depolarization” theory on how Oliver died, among other issues, as the Journal-World reported.
The case against Buchhorn was ultimately dismissed on Dec. 16, 2022. Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez issued a statement in January that her office would not retry the case after an expert for the state determined, among other things, that Oliver had died of a pre-existing heart defect and not from abuse.
Buchhorn filed a wrongful imprisonment and conviction claim in February, and the state denied the claim earlier this month, as the Journal-World reported.
During a case management conference on Monday, Assistant Attorney General Shon Qualseth said that despite the Douglas County DA’s office having retained an expert who determined the child had died of natural causes, the state would need to retain yet another expert to review the previous expert’s findings and all other medical reports connected to the case.
Buchhorn’s attorney, Bill Skepnek, insisted to the court Monday that the evidence was clear and said that the AG’s office would come to the same conclusion as the local DA’s office and that there was never a crime committed to begin with in the baby’s death.
In addition to a new expert, Qualseth said he would need time to review whether the state law that Buchhorn is relying on includes house arrest and county jail time as part of an imprisonment claim.
Chief Judge James McCabria ordered Qualseth to identify an expert by Sept. 1 and for Skepnek to identify any additional counter-experts for Buchhorn by Nov. 3. McCabria set another status conference for March 4, 2024, after both sides have had adequate time to review any reports, prepare any additional motions and to schedule a bench trial to resolve the case.