Case against 10-year-old girl charged in baby's death is transferred to juvenile court

April 29, 2011|By DON AINES |

Charged with third-degree homicide, the suspect, barely 4 feet tall, went before Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Carol Van Horn as an adult and, after a hearing Friday morning, left as a juvenile.

The 10-year-old Shippensburg, Pa., girl was charged as an adult in the death of 10-month-old Heath Conrad Ryder, who died on Aug. 2, 2010, after sustaining head trauma on July 29 while at his baby-sitter's home, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed by Pennsylvania State Police.

The baby sitter, Dottie Mae Bowers, 56, of 127 Bennelton Drive, Shippensburg, was charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.

She was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Todd R. Williams, who released her on an unsecured $50,000 bond on the condition that she not provide any day care or baby-sitting services while the case is pending.

The girl's preliminary arraignment was held before Van Horn, but defense attorney Jason P. Kutulakis told the judge he filed a petition to have the girl "decertified" as an adult so that her case could be transferred to juvenile court.

District Attorney Matthew D. Fogal said earlier he believed juvenile court was appropriate and would not oppose the motion.

The girl was released to her parents' custody on the condition she have no unsupervised contact with children under the age of 5.

Homicide charges must be initiated in adult court in Pennsylvania,  and a person of any age can be charged, Fogal said before the hearing.

 Children between the ages of 10 and 18 can be adjudicated as delinquents in juvenile court, but a child under 10 may be adjudicated as a dependent child, a status that allows for treatment and court supervision, but not detention, he said.

The girl was about two weeks short of her 10th birthday when the incident occurred, Fogal said.

On July 29, 2010, police went to Chambersburg Hospital for a report of a child with a head injury, the affidavit said. A doctor told police that Heath Ryder's parents said the baby was hurt in a fall at his baby-sitter's home, but he thought the injuries were inconsistent with a fall, the document said.

Heath had surgery at Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center, but died on Aug. 2 of blunt force head trauma, according to the autopsy. A coroner's inquest was held two weeks ago during which both Bowers and the girl invoked the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects a person from self-incrimination, Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner said.

In December, police twice interviewed another child who was also in Bowers' care, the affidavit said. She told police she saw the girl who was charged  "shaking the victim in an up and down motion" before throwing him into a playpen.

But the girl who was charged was interviewed in December and told police the other girl picked up Heath out of the playpen and tossed him at her, the affidavit said. The suspect said she put Heath back in the playpen, but the other girl picked him up and tossed him back to her several times, the document said.

On the afternoon of July 29, Bowers called Heath's mother Shelly Ryder telling her Heath was "breathing funny and would not wake up," the affidavit said. Ryder told Bowers to call 911, but Bowers had not by the time the mother arrived, and Ryder made the call on her cell phone.

Bowers told police she put Heath down for a nap at 1:15 p.m., but was unable to wake him at 2:50 p.m., the affidavit said. Bowers said she tried to call Shelly Ryder several times, the document said.

Ryder's cell phone records showed Bowers called 11 times between 3:26 p.m. to 3:37 p.m. when she finally reached her, the affidavit said.

A doctor at Hershey Medical Center told investigators that "in addition to the traumatic injury to the brain caused by the shaking, his brain was also deprived of oxygen because the victim was not breathing properly," the affidavit said.

The doctor told police "had 911 been called earlier, the victim's chances of survival would have been greatly increased."

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