(adds defense attorney's comments in paragraphs 3,5-6)
A grand jury indicted Toms River resident, Michelle A. Heale, 44, for the murder of a 14-month-old child that was in her care, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said today.
The charges against Heale, who was also indicted for endangering the welfare of a child, stem from an incident that occurred on August 28 at her Toms River home, while she was babysitting Mason Hess, the 14-month-old.
S. Karl Mohel, the attorney representing Heale, called the indictment a "travesty." Mohel said this is a tragedy for two families that know each other very well, since the father of the victim and the husband of the defendant are detectives in the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.
Under state guidelines, Monmouth County prosecutors said they are handling the case because of the connection to the local office.
"Our client maintains that she is innocent and will be proven not guilty in a jury trial," Mohel said. Heale, a mother of four-year-old twins, had been babysitting Hess more than a year, he added.
Mohel said defense in this matter, using medical evidence, will be "exhaustive" and he is still awaiting discovery and other reports from prosecutors.
Toms River Police and EMS responded to Heale's home the afternoon of August 28 when the child was not breathing and transported Hess to the emergency room, the prosecutor said. Hess was quickly airlifted to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
On August 31, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia physicians concluded that Hess was the victim of violent shaking that caused severe brain, spine and retinal damage, the prosecutor said. Hess succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead on September 1 at approximately 2:30 p.m. A subsequent autopsy performed by the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office rendered Hess' cause of death to be blunt cerebral trauma and the manner of death to be homicide.
Heale remains free on $250,000 bail set by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Scully.
If convicted of murder, Heale faces a mandatory minimum 30 years’ imprisonment and a maximum potential sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Heale would not be subject to a sentence of life imprisonment unless the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed the murder “by her own hand,” and that an “aggravating factor” has been proven, the prosecutor said in a statement.
Endangering the welfare of a child is a second-degree crime and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, the prosecutor said.
The case is being prosecuted by Director of Investigations Marc C. LeMieux.