Babysitter’s serious neglect convictions, sentence affirmed

December 27, 2017

A babysitter convicted of inflicting a life-threatening head injury on an infant in her care lost her appeal of her felony convictions and sentence after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined neither court error nor insufficient evidence warranted reversal.

One day while babysitting S.E. at her home, Christine Lindhorst called S.E.’s mother to tell her she was taking the child to the hospital because she had fallen on a wooden floor, hit her head and begun vomiting. When she arrived at the hospital, Lindhorst told the staff S.E. had been standing up, but fell onto the wooden floor about two hours earlier.

A CAT scan revealed a fractured skull, an injury S.E.’s attending nurses and doctors believed was too severe to have resulted from a simple fall. Further, when S.E. underwent emergency surgery, doctors discovered brain contusions and a large blood clot.

Dr. David Smith, a pediatric surgeon who examined S.E. after surgery, determined her injuries were caused by “non-accidental trauma” involving a large amount of force applied to her head. Smith further concluded S.E.’s conditions were life-threatening, so symptoms would have begun hours before she arrived in the emergency room.

Child protective services was called, and S.E. was placed in her uncle’s custody for two days while an investigation was pending. However, Lindhorst was ultimately convicted in relation to S.E.’s injuries, with the Allen Superior Court finding her guilty of battery resulting in serious bodily injury to a person under 14 and neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, both as Level 3 felonies.

The court sentenced Lindhorst to an aggregate six years, and she appealed in Christine Marie Lindhorst v. State of Indiana, 02A03-1704-CR-696. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling on Wednesday, rejecting Lindhorst’s challenges to both her convictions and sentence.

Lindhorst first challenged her convictions on the grounds that the trial court erred in limiting her cross-examination of Smith regarding the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, a journal he testified he had never read. But Senior Judge Betty Barteau — who noted Smith refused to agree the journal was a reliable source — said another state expert had read the study in question, so Lindhorst had the opportunity to cross-examine her on the study’s findings. Thus, any error in limiting the cross-examination of Smith was harmless, Barteau said.

The appellate court also upheld the sufficiency of the evidence against Lindhorst, pointing to the testimony of the state’s multiple experts, who each said a simple fall onto a wooden floor very likely could not have caused the severe injuries S.E. sustained. The evidence also showed Lindhorst unnecessarily delayed getting medical help for S.E. by up to two hours, when her symptoms likely would have manifested soon after the injury, Barteau said.

Finally, the court affirmed Lindhorst’s sentence, noting her six-year sentence fell below the advisory term of nine years. Additionally, S.E. suffered permanent brain scarring and possible developmental issues as a result of her injuries, so lessening Lindhorst’s sentence would “greatly depreciate” the severity of her actions, Barteau said.