The three-week trial against the Shakopee daycare provider accused of inflicting life-threatening injuries on a 6-month-old baby in September 2017 continued this week.
Laurie Ann Gregor, 55, testified the child fell from her kitchen countertop while she was making him a bottle, but the state claimed the child’s injuries are inconsistent with a typical household fall and that Gregor missed several opportunities to call 911.
Gregor is charged with first-degree assault, malicious punishment of a child and malicious punishment of a child under the age of 4. The child was diagnosed with a fractured skull, bruised legs, brain bleeding and retinal hemorrhaging. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison and a $60,000 fine.
Tears were shed on both sides of the courtroom Thursday when Gregor testified that on the day of the incident, she took the child into the kitchen to make him a bottle around 11 a.m. While she was making the bottle, she set him on the counter, stabilizing his body with her hips. When she reached with one hand to turn on the faucet and the other hand to grab milk, she said the child fell from between her hips and onto the counter, landing on the hard tile floor. Gregor said she didn’t see the child land, but he started to cry.
“I knew something horrible had happened,” Gregor said, holding back sobs. She said she then held the child until he stopped crying. A few minutes later, Gregor said she noticed the child was asleep in his play chair, where he frequently sat. When she picked him up to take him to his crib, she said his head fell to one side, and when she began to put the child’s sleep sack on, the child’s eyes rolled to the back of his head.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god...’ I panicked. I was scared to death for him. I thought I truly let this baby get hurt,” Gregor said.
At that time, Gregor claimed she pulled off his sleep sack, picked the child up from the crib, and yelled, “Please wake up, please wake up,” as she shook him to try to wake him. She then said she laid the child on the floor, where she rubbed and pounded his chest.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Gregor said, crying. She said she then ran into the kitchen and called four people before dialing 911: her husband Randy, her daughter-in-law Melissa, her son Alex and Crystal McNally, the child’s mother. Gregor said she called family members because they lived close by and she wanted their help.
“I don’t know why I didn’t (call 911),” Gregor said.
On Wednesday, the state called James Blatzheim, a detective with the Shakopee Police department, and showed a video of Gregor’s initial interview with Blatzheim on the day of the incident. Gregor never mentioned dropping the child and denied any knowledge of the cause of a significant head injury.
Gregor also said in the video she didn’t know what to say to Crystal McNally the day of the incident.
“I didn’t know what to say. ‘Sorry?’ but that’s not enough. These kids are like mine. They’re my kids. They’re my babies,” she said, crying.
Blatzheim told Gregor the child had bruises on his arms and legs, and asked whether she gripped him.
“He’s a big boy. I’ll be honest, I could have grabbed him,” Gregor said. “It takes a little work to get his shorts on.”
Gregor said in her testimony she initially lied to investigators about the fall because she was scared. In cross-examination, Assistant Scott County Attorney Suzanne Brown contended Gregor lied because she didn’t want law enforcement to find out there were 10 children in her care, which was over the limit of her license.
“That moment was about self-preservation. It was about you, isn’t that true?” Brown said.
“No,” Gregor said, crying.
Brown also claimed based on Gregor’s proximity to the child in the kitchen, she should have made an effort to catch the child, or at a minimum, should have seen where he fell.
“It all was too fast,” Gregor said when Brown asked why she didn’t make an effort to catch the child.
“You didn’t watch him land,” Brown said. “You didn’t care enough to watch him land.”
“Of course I cared,” Gregor said.
Brown then asked about the lag time between the alleged fall and when paramedics arrived.
“For that whole hour, you let him suffer. Is that true?” Brown said.
“Yes,” Gregor said, sobbing.
On Wednesday the state also called Michelle Herzog, a licensed Scott County day care provider and a training coordinator of 18 years, to the stand. Herzog told jurors all licensed day care providers in Scott County must become CPR certified and undergo abusive head trauma training.
She said if an infant has difficulty breathing or is unresponsive, providers are trained to gently tap the baby and 911. Assistant Scott County Attorney Deb Lund then showed a training video that all licensed day care providers in Scott County are required to watch, which informs them of “shaken baby syndrome.” The incident was described as shaking a baby as the result of frustration towards a child. According to the video, shaken baby syndrome can cause bleeding to the brain when blood vessels tear, resulting in serious brain damage and – in some cases – death.
Prosecutors showed Gregor signed into a day care provider training session where she would have watched that video on Jan. 25, 2016.
“It’s never OK to shake a baby,” the video said, as tears fell from parents Brendan and Crystal McNally’s eyes.
Assistant Scott County Attorney Suzanne Brown also called to the stand Nancy Harper, a pediatrician who specializes in child abuse in Minnesota who saw the McNallys baby when he was admitted to Hennepin Healthcare Dec. 14. Harper said the child’s injuries were not consistent with a short fall. She said bruises on babies not yet old enough to crawl or walk are often red flags that could ultimately lead to a diagnosis of abusive trauma, because “if you’re too young to cruise, you’re too young to bruise.”
“Babies aren’t more fragile (than adults), Harper said. “They don’t bruise more easily... we know patterns of injury based on age and abilities.”
Brown then showed photos Harper took at the hospital of the child’s injuries, which included several bruises on the arms and legs. The photos showed red and purple dots on the legs, as well as parallel bruises. Harper said when she sees parallel bruises, it can be evidence of grip marks or a blow with the hand. At the time of the child’s injuries, he was unable to crawl or walk.
“In this case I was concerned with a grip mark,” she said.
Brown was particularly interested in the baby’s head injuries, which Harper said would not be consistent with a three-foot fall. The prosecutor presented photos of Gregor’s kitchen and living room area and asked Harper whether the baby’s skull fracture could be consistent with a head slammed on the carpet, counter or end table.
“Yes,” Harper said. “You just don’t see literature published that describes these falls in depth and have them associated with hemorrhages... It’s a rare event.”
In Harper’s original doctor’s note, she wrote the child’s injuries were most consistent with abusive head trauma.
“We knew this was a child that had sustained whiplash as well as an impact event,” she said.