Chesterton Tribune

Liberty day care provider not guilty in infant death

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A jury found a Liberty Township day-care provider not-guilty on Thursday of the death in 2008 of a Chesterton-area infant in her care.

Deborah R. Parlock had been charged with battery resulting in the death of a person less than 14—a Class A felony punishable by a term of 20 to 50 years—in connection with the death of 6-month-old Nicholas Munden, who died on Sept. 29, 2008, at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital after being transported there 10 days earlier when he’d experienced difficulty breathing while at Parlock’s day-care facility.

Parlock’s attorney, John Vouga, told the Chesterton Tribune after deadline on Friday that he was never in doubt of the ultimate verdict. “I believe the jury was convinced early on,” he said. “After they heard our experts and closing arguments, I don’t believe there was much to decide.”

The case, Vouga noted, rested on conflicting medical testimony. Parlock was charged in May 2009 after Kelley Staley, M.D. associate medical director of Child Protective Services at Comer, advised investigators with the Porter County Sheriff’s Police that Nicholas’ injuries “were significant for their association with inflicted traumatic brain injury” and that “the usual mechanism is injury from shaking.”

But that finding was made without reference to Nicholas’ medical history, Vouga said. “There were huge flaws in the prosecution’s case. Those flaws were not based on the prosecutor’s work nearly as much as on the failure of the medical professionals at the University of Chicago to examine the child’s medical history.”

Had they done so thoroughly, Vouga said, they would have found that Nicholas was suffering from “benign enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces” (BESS), more commonly known as “infant’s fluid build-up.” That condition was causing Nicholas’ head to grow at a rapid rate, from the 50th percentile in May 2008 to the 95th percentile “less than 60 days later,” Vouga said.

“When he went to Comer, his head was the size of an average 3-year-old’s,” Vouga noted. “One-third of his weight was in his head.”

At the same time, Vouga said, the Cook County, Ill., Medical Examiner’s Office—in ruling Nicholas’ death a homicide and finding the cause of death to be “blunt force trauma” associated with “child abuse”—did not observe “a single mark, not a single bruise” on Nicholas, “nothing to support the state’s theory that my client picked him up and shook him.”

“It’s very important to look for other injuries,” Vouga said. “Two-thirds of babies injured by shaking have broken ribs. It’s the force equivalent to that sustained in a car accident but there was not a single bruise on Nicholas.”

Vouga also observed that “the police never went to question a single parent of the other kids going to Debbie’s in the same time period. There was no attempt to see if other kids were being similarly injured.”

“I knew Debbie was innocent the moment she came in and hired me,” Vouga added. “Her story never changed.”


Posted 6/20/2011