Rantoul man convicted of battering toddler

Rantoul man convicted of battering toddler

URBANA — Despite suffering multiple skull fractures, bleeding in the brain and a broken wrist two years ago, a 3-year-old Rantoul girl is doing well.

“She’s got a big personality. She’s very hard-headed,” Sonya Dempsey said Thursday, moments after a jury retired to deliberate whether her ex-boyfriend was responsible for inflicting those injuries on her daughter when she was 16 months old.

Just under three hours later, the nine women and three men concluded that Christopher Collins, who will be 23 next week, was guilty of aggravated battery of a child for what happened to the child on Sept. 20, 2015, at the Rantoul home he shared with Dempsey.

Judge Tom Difanis set sentencing for Nov. 20. Collins faces a mandatory prison term of between six and 30 years. He showed no reaction when the verdict was read.

Collins has been in the county jail two years, having been arrested a day after he gave a more than three-hour statement to Rantoul police detectives in which he said he wasn’t sure what happened to the gravely injured child but also apologized repeatedly for hurting her and said if he did it, he didn’t mean to.

His attorney, Lawrence Sommers of Brookfield, had asked for at least 11 of the continuances that were granted while he remained jailed.

Testimony at trial, which began Monday, was that Collins was living with Dempsey and her two girls, ages 16 months and 2 1/2 at the time, in an apartment on Falcon Drive. Friends since high school, the two moved in together about four months prior and were living as a family.

On that Sunday, Collins was taking care of Dempsey’s children and his niece while Dempsey and his sisters and mother attended an afternoon baby shower in Penfield.

When the women returned home about 4 p.m., Dempsey found her normally active toddler lying on Collins’ chest.

“He said she was not feeling well,” she said, going on to describe her daughter’s head being tilted, her negative reaction to having her neck touched, and her unwillingness to eat a cupcake.

“He said she fell. I thought it was a common fall, nothing serious,” Dempsey testified.

When the child began vomiting and Collins’ sister pointed out a bruise behind the child’s ear, one below her eye and another on her forehead, Dempsey said she became more concerned. They then took the baby to Carle Foundation Hospital.

Dempsey said when she pressed Collins about what happened, he suggested that the baby could have been in a fight with the other girls, that she might have fallen or that one of the other girls struck her with a toy.

She said he also offered those explanations to medical professionals treating the child as they tried to obtain a history.

“I had no real explanations for the injuries,” said Dempsey, who said her daughter was not sick or out of sorts earlier.

Carle emergency-room nurse Amanda Christians testified that the baby was “very lethargic and not responding to me verbally, not making eye contact.” She said the child had a bruise on her forehead, another behind the right ear and blood in her right ear.

Christians said neither Dempsey nor Collins offered any explanation.

“He seemed very withdrawn. When I asked questions of both of them, he made very little eye contact. I don’t remember him even answering. The mother answered all the questions. He did nothing but look down,” she said.

‘Significant’ force used

Emergency-room physician Dr. Ricardo Lema said the baby “did not respond at all to painful stimuli,” so he ordered a CT scan that revealed multiple skull fractures and bleeding in the brain.

Lema said he ruled out any underlying disease that could have caused the brain bleed and concluded the baby’s injuries were the result of “non-accidental trauma.”

“It was caused by something or someone. It did take a significant amount of force, not by a child, but an older teen or adult,” Lema said.

Pediatrician Brent Reifsteck, an expert in child abuse and neglect, examined the baby two days later and came to the same conclusion but was even more emphatic.

Reifsteck said the injuries that brought on the symptoms Lema saw happened anywhere from minutes to an hour earlier, not a day or two.

Under cross-examination by Sommers, Reifsteck said there was no way that normal care-taking by an adult would have exacerbated a prior injury to result in the non-responsiveness of the baby. He also said a child could not have inflicted that amount of damage on the baby.

“The symptoms occur within minutes of the event causing the injury. The history was that the child was normal and mom noticed something right before she brought her in,” Reifsteck said.

Beginning late Tuesday and continuing Wednesday, jurors listened to the entire 200-minute recorded statement that Collins gave to Rantoul detectives Justin Bouse and Tim Rivest in a conference room at Carle, which began about 1 a.m. Sept. 21.

“He gave several variations (of what happened) throughout the interview,” Bouse testified.

Summarizing, Bouse said Collins said one of the other girls flipped her out of a walker; that while he was changing the baby’s soiled diaper, she threw her head back, hitting it on the floor, and he yanked her up by the arms with too much force; and that she fell off a coffee table on to her face.

'What is he sorry for?'

At several points in the statement, Collins cried and apologized, saying he never intentionally hurt the baby. He described previous incidents in which he fell with her in his arms.

Testifying for Collins, one of his sisters said she observed Dempsey swinging the baby by the arms on Friday and hitting her head on an entertainment center. Another sister said she observed the baby sitting motionless for almost three hours on Saturday. She also said Dempsey told her that the child was coming down with a virus and should probably go to the doctor.

Bailey Collins also testified that Dempsey said she didn’t want to take the baby to the hospital “because DCFS gets involved,” a reference to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Under questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Larry Solava, Dempsey said she did not recall swinging her child or saying she had a virus. She also denied saying anything to the sister about DCFS, an agency she has had no contact with.

In closing arguments, Solava said there was simply no plausible explanation for how the child was injured other than that Collins, the only adult in the house, did it.

“If this was an accident, what is he sorry for?” Solava said.

Sommers argued that the police “hammered, pushed and prodded” Collins during the lengthy statement, getting him to agree with their speculation about what happened.

Difanis had earlier denied Sommers’ motion to exclude the recorded statement.

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TheSaltyOne wrote on October 20, 2017 at 7:10 am

While I don't take the side of the "alleged" abuser, I'm somewhat baffled by Solava's question.  "If this was an accident, what's he sorry for?"

That is wrong to me on so many levels.  So if I'm in a semi and somewhat pulls in front of me in an intersection I'm passing through and their car gets hit and they die, I shouldn't be sorry or feel any guilt because it was an accident?  If I get up from my chair and my toddler crawled under my feet while I was snoozing and I accidentally step on him when I get up for a brief moment before I realize, I shouldn't be sorry I injured the child?

To me, the person would only feel sorry if the action was an accident.  If they did it on purpose, why would they feel sorry for what they meant to do?