Apr 29, 2011 : Myles Snyder, Megan Healey
Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal said he has authorized charges against a young girl and her babysitter in the death of an infant at a Shippensburg home last summer.
Fogal said a charge of third-degree murder is appropriate for the girl, who was two weeks shy of her 10th birthday when her "violent acts" caused abusive head trauma to the baby and ultimately his death.
It was determined during a hearing Friday that girl will be tried in juvenile court rather than in adult criminal court. Fogal said she will be tried as a delinquent, however, meaning if convicted she could face time in a juvenile detention center.
The girl's attorney, Jason Kutulakis, said he disputes the charge.
"There are no red flags that she formed an intent to kill," said Kutulakis. "There are no red flags she has a mental disorder or a personality disorder. She's a good student and she does not have a disciplinary problem, so it just doesn't fit."
Fogal said he additionally approved charges of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child against Dottie Bowers for "failing to seek immediate medical care" for 10-month-old Heath Ryder.
"I don't want Dottie to be looked at as doing something wrong because all she did was what she thought was the right thing to do," defense attorney Joseph Caraciolo said.
Involuntary manslaughter is a second-degree felony when the victim is under the age of 12, with a maximum penalty of 20 years. Bowers was arraigned Friday and released on $50,000 unsecured bail.
The filing of criminal complaints follow the findings of a coroner's inquest, in which a jury on April 15 recommended the charge of involuntary manslaughter against Bowers and the third-degree murder charge against the unidentified girl, who is accused of shaking and tossing the baby July 29 at a home day care operated by Bowers.
Dr. Mark Dias, a pediatric neurosurgeon who treated Heath after he was taken to Penn State Hershey Medical Center, testified that the infant suffered extremely traumatic brain injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome. Dias described the injuries as "significant, violent trauma."
The 10-year-old was called as a witness during the inquest, but chose to remain silent.
Dias added during the inquest that there wasn't much doctors could do once Health arrived at the hospital, but said his injuries might have been treatable had Bowers called 911 when she found him unresponsive. Police testified that Bowers never called for help.
Heath's mother, Shelly Ryder, told jurors that she made the emergency call after Bowers ignored her pleas. She said she was on her way home from work when Bowers phoned to tell her that Heath would not wake up and was breathing abnormally. She said she rushed to the home to find her son limp and lifeless, and called 911 while she performed CPR.
"I'll never understand because this was a baby," Ryder told abc27 Friday. "This was not an older child who could say to her 'stop, you're hurting me.' This was a baby."
Bowers was called before the coroner's jury, but she also exercised her Fifth Amendment right to not testify.
Fogal said authorities met with Heath's family at the conclusion of the investigation, and is in agreement with the decision to pursue criminal charges.