The trial against the Shakopee daycare provider accused of inflicting life-threatening injuries on a 6-month-old baby in September 2017 opened to an emotional start Wednesday after months of delay.
Laurie Ann Gregor, 55, is charged with first-degree assault, malicious punishment of a child and malicious punishment of a child under the age of 4. Prosecutors allege Gregor dropped the child and then shook him after she noticed he was unresponsive. 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.
Assistant Scott County Attorney Suzanne Brown told jurors the state’s case would focus on the apparent anger Gregor felt towards the child, her inconsistent statements to police and family members about what happened and the medical expertise of the child’s care team that determined his injuries were “inconsistent with a simple household fall.”
Brown also emphasized Gregor’s cell phone call log. She said after Gregor realized the child was injured, she called her husband, daughter-in-law, and son and daughter-in-law multiple times before calling the child’s mother and — finally — 911.
“That’s a total of 16 phone calls before she called 911 for a baby she recognized was struggling to breathe,” Brown said. “Based on her own admissions, she needed 50 minutes between realizing he was injured at 10:45 and calling 911 at 11:35.”
Brown said the result of Gregor’s decision to call her family first meant Crystal McNally, the baby’s mother, was the second to last call and arrived at the day care before paramedics to find her son in the throes of a full seizure.
The defense, in its opening statement, admitted Gregor’s delay in calling 911 was one of her biggest mistakes that day. The other was lying to police and saying the child hadn’t suffered any injury or accident.
“No one in the whole world regrets not telling the truth more than Laurie that day,” defense attorney Mark McDonough said.
Gregor’s lawyer contested the idea that the 26-year veteran day care provider had abused or harbored any ill will against the infant, and suggested the events of the day were all a horrible accident. He said defense witnesses would testify the child’s injuries were the result of a fall. He told the jury medical experts would say injuries related to shaken baby cases — like neck and rib injuries — weren’t found.
“These doctors will help you understand and see that [the victim] is not an abused child but that [the victim] was injured in a fall,” he said.
According to the state, the infant continues to have optic nerve damage, misalignment of his eyes, reduced use of his right hand, and the potential for developmental delays and seizures. The family said he continues to be treated by a team of specialists including a neurologist, ophthalmologist and physical therapist.
Family members take the stand
The trial grew emotional as several witnesses broke out in open, racking sobs while testifying on the stand.
The child’s parents, Brendan and Crystal McNally, were among the first witnesses called by the state. The parents recalled their son as a happy, if maybe attention-hungry child, who was growing up to be a healthy toddler. They said they trusted Gregor as the day care provider for all of their children and had no prior problems.
Both McNallys broke down as they told jurors about receiving the news that their son was unresponsive. Crystal McNally said when Gregor called her sobbing, she knew something was wrong. As McNally recounted asking Gregor if she had called 911 and learning she had not, she shouted, “I said call 911, call 911!”
“Whatever was preventing her from calling 911, I needed her to know it was OK to call 911,” she said.
Jurors and people in the courtroom cried as McNally described the car ride to the preschool after Gregor’s call.
“On the way there I just kept screaming and thinking he was dead,” McNally said. “When she says he’s not waking up, to me that means he’s dead.”
Later during the trial Wednesday, Alex and Cassandra Gregor, the defendant’s son and daughter-in-law, described their own chaotic memories. Though Alex maintained a calm exterior as he testified to receiving multiple missed calls and eventually talking with his panicked mother, he too broke down as he described Gregor’s state after the child was taken to a hospital.
“It was kind of like a hysterical cry and just seemed... she just seemed very scared,” Alex said. “She kept saying over and over again, ‘I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to do.’”
The trial, which is being presided over by Scott County District Judge Christian Wilton, is scheduled to last three weeks. A civil suit filed by the McNallys against Gregor is on hold pending the conclusion of the criminal case. The suit was filed in April and the family is suing for the costs of their child’s medical expenses which were more than $177,000 at the time of filing. Gregor filed for bankruptcy shortly after the suit was filed.
The case has been repeatedly delayed due to Gregor’s attorneys’ difficulty in obtaining expert witnesses and funds. There have also been apparent issues with discovery because of discrepancies on the state’s part and as a result of information from the victim’s ongoing medical appointments.
When the trial began Wednesday, the defense’s witness list included five medical experts, Gregor’s immediate family and nine character witnesses. Prior to the trial’s opening, the state requested that jurors be allowed to hear evidence about expert witness compensation in the case.
The majority of the state’s witnesses are medical and law enforcement personnel who responded to the incident and those involved in the child’s ongoing care. The state also listed members of the victim’s and defendant’s immediate families and one child as their witnesses.