Babysitter Terry McKirchy was charged 36 years ago after pleading no contest to attempted murder for shaking then 5-month-old Benjamin Dowling so severely that he suffered permanent brain damage. McKirchy only spent weekends in jail for three months, and had three years of probation at the time, according to NBC News.
McKirchy is now facing a possible life sentence after a Florida medical examiner says Dowling succumbed to those injuries when he died in 2019 at 35 years old after a life with severe mental and physical disabilities.
A Broward County grand jury indicted McKirchy, 59, with first-degree murder and she is now jailed near her home in Sugar Land, Texas, where she is currently awaiting extradition to Florida.
“The passage of time between the injuries sustained and the death of the victim were considered by the forensic experts who conducted the autopsy and ruled the death was directly caused by the injuries from 1984,” prosecutors said in a statement. “This case was presented to the grand jury, which determined that this was a homicide.”
According to Fox News, U.S. Marshals tracked down McKirchy to her job at an auto parts store in Houston, TX, where she was placed under arrest on July 2.
McKirchy, who was 22-years-old and had two children of her own at the time, was babysitting 5-month-old Dowling when she allegedly shook him, causing him to have a brain hemorrhage on July 3, 1984.
Dowling was never able to communicate despite attending various schools for children with special needs, reported Fox News. He later died on Sept. 16, 2019.
McKirchy allegedly told Dowling’s parents that their child had fallen off the couch, but the baby was blue in the face, his breathing shallow, his hands clenched and his eyes were no longer responsive. His parents rushed him to the hospital, where doctors determined he had suffered from shaken infant syndrome.
David Weinstein, a Miami defense lawyer and former prosecutor not involved in the case, told NBC News that it is difficult to know what went into the 1985 McKirchy deal. Prosecutors may have felt that McKirchy’s pregnancy at the time would have made it difficult to get a conviction.
Weinstein told NBC News that prosecutors may think a homicide case is stronger because perhaps the medical and scientific evidence has progressed.