Richter found guilty in shaken baby case

Jury deliberates 8½ hours on child endangerment charge

Shelley Richter is guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, at her home day care in Taos on Aug. 19, 2010.

An eight-man, four-woman Cole County jury deliberated for nearly 8½ hours Wednesday before returning that verdict about 9:45 p.m., in Richter's second trial on the charge that she shook Lane Schaefer, then 7 months old, causing permanent brain injuries.

After deliberating almost four hours, the jury told Cole County Presiding Circuit Judge Pat Joyce they were deadlocked, but she urged them to keep working.

"You should make every reasonable effort to reach a verdict," she told them. "Do not be afraid to change your opinion.

"But a juror should not agree to a verdict of guilty if they do not believe she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

After asking several times for specific pieces of evidence, jurors sent a message about 9:35 p.m. that they had a verdict.

Joyce told the jurors: "Thank you so much for sticking with it and reaching a verdict."

Sentencing will be scheduled later. First-degree endangering the welfare of a child is a Class C felony, and the punishment could be as much as seven years in prison.

Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, defense attorney Shane Farrow and Lane Schaefer's family members were not available to comment after the verdict was announced.

Richter had been Lane's babysitter for about five months when the Aug. 19 incident happened.

Richter, now 44, testified Wednesday she'd finished feeding the other children that day, had prepared Lane's lunch and had gotten him out of his chair to feed him when she started to fall over another child behind her.

"I picked him up, then stepped backwards," she told Farrow.

"He was almost up to my hip."

She started crying as she continued: "I know I caught myself before I fell (on top of the other child) - and then I realized (Lane) wasn't in my arms anymore."

Richter testified that she didn't see how the baby hit the floor, but that "he was on the floor (and) he was screaming."

She said picked the boy off the floor, and he went limp in her arms.

She couldn't see any physical injuries.

"I thought he'd died," she said.

Then she tried to blow in his face, thinking Lane had "passed out."

Unable to get a response, she placed the baby on a carpeted portion of the floor, and called a neighbor.

Richter didn't call 911 until the neighbor, a former highway patrolman, came down and suggested it.

She didn't think of calling 911 because she panicked, Richter testified.

When Farrow asked if she had gotten angry or lost her temper and picked Lane up and shook him or slammed his head against a wall or a pillow, Richter said: "No, I did not."

During his closing argument, Richardson called Richter's story "a flat-out lie" because of her "consciousness of guilt."

"Her story is a lie to cover up an angry situation," Richardson explained, "where she shook Lane so violently that it caused a massive injury."

He argued the details of her story don't add up.

"An inconsistent history is a red flag for child abuse," Richardson said. "The story doesn't wash in medical science."

He encouraged the jurors to remember the testimony of the doctors who treated Lane Schaefer on Aug. 19, 2010 - the day he was hurt - and in the days and weeks since the incident.

All but one testified that Lane's blindness and permanent brain injuries could have been caused only by "abusive head trauma," likely because he was shaken.

Dr. John Plunkett, a retired Minnesota medical examiner who also testified in the 2013 trial, told the jury Wednesday morning that shaking babies really doesn't cause the damage doctors used to think it causes.

"Shaking is an extremely unlikely cause of those injuries," Plunkett said. "Lane weighed 20-25 pounds.

"It's pretty difficult to hold that a child that size and shake it" with enough force to cause the trauma Lane Schaefer experienced.

Plunkett also said a baby shaken that hard also should have had substantial neck injuries, but there were none.

In his closing argument, Farrow noted there were disagreements among the University Hospital doctors who treated Lane about the cause of his injuries - and about whether the baby had had experienced bleeding in his brain before or after the incident.

"Dr. Plunkett, a forensic pathologist, said these injuries can and do happen - because of falls," Farrow said.

But Richardson told the jury to discount Plunkett's testimony because he used to testify that shaking a baby could cause the kind of damage Lane suffered but, in recent years, has testified only for defense attorneys and against the impact shaking a baby can cause.

Farrow told the jury if Richter had made up a story to cover an intentional shaking, she would have made up a better one.

"The reason it's not the best story is she's not making it up," he argued.

Earlier coverage:

Prosecution rests in Richter retrial