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1985 Shaken Baby Case Yields New Murder Charge

Terry McKirchy could face life in prison if convicted in Florida
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 27, 2021 12:42 PM CDT
36 Years After Shaken Baby Case, a Murder Charge
Benjamin Dowling is seen as a toddler after he suffered a brain hemorrhage that prosecutors say was caused by his babysitter, Terry McKirchy, in Florida.   (Courtesy of the Dowling family/Broward State Attorney's Office)

(Newser) – Babysitter Terry McKirchy got a light sentence 36 years ago after pleading no contest to attempted murder for shaking 5-month-old Benjamin Dowling so severely that he suffered permanent brain damage—weekends in jail for three months and three years probation. But now McKirchy is facing a possible life sentence after a Florida medical examiner says Dowling succumbed to those injuries when he died in 2019 at the age of 35 after a life with severe mental and physical disabilities, per the AP. A Broward County grand jury recently indicted McKirchy, 59, on charges of first-degree murder. She is now jailed near her home in Sugar Land, Texas, pending her return to Florida. McKirchy, who has previously denied injuring the boy, has waived extradition, the Broward State Attorney's Office said.

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In a statement, Benjamin's parents, Rae and Joe Dowling, said their first son "never crawled, fully rolled over, walked, never talked, never fed himself" after his injuries. They did not address McKirchy's arrest and, through the state attorney's office, declined interview requests. McKirchy told the Miami Herald in 1985 she was innocent, but accepted the plea deal to put the case behind her. "I know I didn’t do it. My conscience is clear. But I can't deal with it anymore," she said. She was then six months pregnant. Under the deal, she would only serve weekends until her third child was born. The Dowlings told the Herald at the time they were stunned when prosecutor Barbara Mitchell told them of the plea deal. She had been facing 12 to 17 years. (Read about a similar case here.)

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