Ex-babysitter charged with murder 37 years after shaking infant, prosecutors say

Written By: Neil Vigdor © 2021 The New York Times The New York Times
Washington, United States Published: Jul 28, 2021, 10:56 PM(IST)

Child abuse (representative image) Photograph:( Reuters )

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McKirchy was sentenced to 60 days in jail and probation after pleading no contest in 1985 to charges of attempted murder and aggravated child abuse

A former babysitter who served a few months in jail for shaking a five-month-old boy so forcefully 37 years ago that he suffered permanent brain damage now faces a possible life sentence after his death from those injuries in 2019, at age 35, officials said.

Terry McKirchy, 59, who now lives in Texas, was arrested again on July 2 after a grand jury in Broward County, Florida, indicted her on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Benjamin Dowling, prosecutors said this week.

She was taking care of him at her home in Hollywood, Florida, on July 3, 1984, when he had difficulty breathing, the authorities said. His mother told investigators that she immediately took him to a hospital, where doctors found that he had been shaken with such force that it had severed the blood vessels to his brain.

McKirchy was sentenced to 60 days in jail and probation after pleading no contest in 1985 to charges of attempted murder and aggravated child abuse.

Dowling was left with severe physical and mental disabilities.

Prosecutors in Broward County, Florida, said this week that they had opened a new case after the medical examiner who conducted Dowling's autopsy in Manatee County, Florida, where he had been living at the time of his death, referred the matter to law enforcement.

Prosecutors had faced scrutiny over their initial handling of the original case, including for comments that one prosecutor who was involved in the plea deal made to The Miami Herald in 1985. That prosecutor, who remains employed by the Broward County State Attorney's Office, called McKirchy’s sentence "therapeutic" at the time, but offered no further explanation.

Forensic experts considered the passage of time "between the injuries sustained and the death of the victim" when conducting the autopsy and ruled that "the death was directly caused by the injuries from 1984," the Broward County State Attorney’s Office said in a statement this week. "The facts speak for themselves," it said, "and this case was presented to the grand jury, which determined that this was a homicide."

McKirchy, who was in jail in Fort Bend County, Texas, awaiting extradition to Florida, faces up to life in prison if convicted.

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