BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - The second trial of a Battle Creek man once convicted of child abuse and felony murder in the death of a 3-year-old girl has begun.
Leo Ackley, 30, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2011 death of Baylee Stenman, his girlfriend's daughter; he was granted a new trial by the Michigan Supreme Court after it was determined his previous attorney didn't adequately represent him, failing to call expert witnesses for the defense.
In the original trial, there were no defense experts to respond to prosecutors' witnesses, who testified the child died from head trauma which was intentional and from violent acts and not from accidental injuries like falls or traffic crashes.
The new trial started Tuesday in Calhoun County Circuit Judge John Hallacy's courtroom with the testimony of several witnesses for the prosecution.
In her opening statement, Calhoun County Assistant Prosecutor Karen Pawloski described the July 28, 2011, events that led to the girl's death Aug. 1 that year. Pawloski described how Stenman was left in Ackley's care and was later found unresponsive and with bruises on her body.
Pawloski said Ackley drove Stenman and another child to his mom's house instead of calling 911 or seeking help from other people in the townhouse complex where they lived.
"These were intentional acts," Pawloski said.
Defense attorney Andrew Rodenhouse told the jury that nobody actually knows how Stenman died, and that the girl had other health issues as well.
"You're going to hear how the people's experts manufactured this into a murder; it's not," Rodenhouse said.
Other witnesses Tuesday included officers from the Battle Creek Police Department, Battle Creek Police Detective Scott Silverman, Lifecare Ambulance Paramedic Matthew Wilson and others. One of them was Ackley's half-sister, Brittany Lake.
Lake was home when Ackley arrived at his mother's house. She described how Ackley seemed scared. Lake drove Stenman to the hospital while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, but stopped at The Community of Rolling Hills mobile home park on Morgan Road to meet an incoming ambulance, and that's where first responders and other witnesses gathered. Stories of what happened and when it happened at Rolling Hills were the focus of most of Tuesday's testimony.
Ackley said he found the child on the floor of her bedroom, and that she could've hit her head while falling out of bed. Prosecutors say Ackley injured Stenman's head, causing her brain to swell. Wilson testified that bruises along Stenman's jaw line, photographs of which were shown in court, looked like thumb prints.
The defense has argued that newer medical science disputes testimony from medical experts about shaken-baby syndrome and abusive head trauma. Rodenhouse plans to call Dr. Ljabisa Dragovic, chief forensic pathologist in Oakland County.
Trace Christneson contributed to this report. Contact Andy Fitzpatrick at 269-966-0697 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @am_fitzpatrick. Hear him on "The Jump Page" and "The Best Podcast in the World" at soundcloud.com/enquirerpodcasting.
Battle Creek Enquirer