CHICAGO (CN) – A former day care worker who was freed last year after spending almost a decade in prison on charges that she killed a baby claims police and a state’s witness fabricated a report finding that the baby died of shaken-baby syndrome.
Jennifer Del Prete was working at a Romeoville, Ill., day care center when a child she cared for suddenly stopped breathing. Eleven months later, the child, I.Z., died from complications, and Del Prete was charged with murder.
She was convicted of killing the child after a pediatrician, Dr. Emalee Flaherty, opined that the child’s brain bleeding was caused by someone violently shaking the child.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Chicago federal court, Del Prete claims Flaherty’s report was written without conducting any physical examination of I.Z.
She says her defense counsel was never provided with a copy of a letter from the doctor who performed the child’s autopsy questioning the shaken-baby syndrome diagnosis.
In addition, this doctor was provided with an incomplete copy of the child’s medical history, the complaint states, so he was unaware of the child’s chronic subdural hematoma when he concluded the child’s death was due to abusive head trauma.
Del Prete spent almost a decade in prison until her conviction was overturned by an Illinois appeals court in August 2016 on the basis of improper withholding of exculpatory evidence.
According to her civil rights lawsuit, Romeoville police officers and Flaherty “conspired to frame plaintiff for the child’s death, concocting a story that plaintiff had shaken the child to cause a traumatic and fatal brain injury. In reality, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy questioned whether there was any abuse at all.”
Del Prete claims that Flaherty “knew I.Z.’s injuries could have been caused by a fall, accidental collision, or were possibly the result of natural causes, and that I.Z. had chronic subdural hematomas, which must have been sustained well prior to the afternoon of I.Z.’s collapse.”
Del Prete’s two children were ages 7 and 15 when she was incarcerated, and her wrongful conviction deprived her of the ability to see her children grow up, she says.
In addition, “The case was publicized, and neighbors in her community learned that she was charged with child abuse,” the complaint states. “She faced stigma, and experienced fear and distress during her nearly decade-long detention.”
Del Prete seeks punitive damages for alleged violation of her due process rights, malicious prosecution, conspiracy and emotional distress.
She is represented by Jon Loevy with Loevy & Loevy in Chicago.
The Romeoville Police Department did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Prosecutors have said they are appealing last year’s decision to vacate Del Prete’s conviction.