By Tony Gordon | Daily Herald Staff
The former Lincolnshire day care center aide charged with killing a 16-month-old boy pleaded not guilty Thursday in Lake County Circuit Court.
Melissa M. Calusinski, 22, faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted of the Jan. 14 death of Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield.
“We are defending our client in very tragic circumstances, and we believe in her innocence,” defense attorney George Kililis of Crystal Lake said outside the courtroom. “We intend to defend her with passion and zeal in the courtroom, and hopefully there will be no prejudgments in the court of public opinion.”
Calusinski was with Benjamin and other children in a room at the Minee Subee in the Park, 400 Marriott Drive, just before 4 p.m. on Jan. 14. Police said Calusinski, of the 500 block of Apache Avenue in Carpentersville, became upset with some other children, lost her temper and threw Benjamin to the ground.
The boy crawled across the room and sat down in a chair before collapsing and being rushed to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville where he died later that day.
Detectives from Lake County Major Crimes Task Force said Calusinski gave them several versions of the events that led to Benjamin’s injury before confessing in a videotaped statement.
The investigation into the center is ongoing, and police and the state Department of Children and Family Services closed the facility Jan. 30. It has not reopened.
Officials seized documents and computers, and police said there were some inconsistent statements made by center employees and missing documents.
In addition to 14 counts of first-degree murder, Circuit Judge Victoria Rossetti told Calusinski she is charged with two counts of aggravated battery to a child. The lesser offense carries a maximum penalty of six to 30 years in prison upon conviction.
Rossetti scheduled a trial of the case for June 22 and ordered Calusinski, who is held on $5 million bond, to appear in court Feb. 23.
Benjamin’s parents and members of Calusinski’s family were in the courtroom Thursday, but both groups left without comment.