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Randy Liebich

Other DuPage County, IL Exonerations
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On February 8, 2002, 22-year-old Randy Liebich and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Kenyatta Brown, brought Brown’s son, Steven, to Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. Steven, who was two months shy of his third birthday, was lethargic, had vomit in his mouth, and was breathing irregularly.

Liebich had spent the day babysitting Steven, who was Brown’s son from a prior relationship, as well as the couple’s 11-day-old daughter, while Brown worked at a mall. Although their apartment was in Willowbrook, Illinois, they drove the boy to Mount Sinai, a distance of about 17 miles, because that was where Steven had been born. The couple stopped along the way at the restaurant where Liebich worked so that Liebich could show Steven to his boss as proof that he needed to miss work because Steven was ill.

Liebich told Dr. Paula Green that Steven had choked on a piece of a hot dog during lunch and had been in the same state ever since. Green performed an initial examination and saw no signs of trauma. However, not long after, she examined the boy again, and saw red marks on his head and other areas of his body.

Green concluded these were the result of a trauma occurring just hours before—while Steven was in Liebich’s care. A CT scan was performed and revealed a significant bleeding of the brain, indicating a serious head injury. Steven was then transferred to Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, where emergency surgery was performed to release pressure on his brain. However, by that time, Steven was being kept alive by a respirator. On February 11, 2002, Steven died when he was taken off life support.

On March 1, 2002, Liebich was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. More than two years later, in the summer of 2004, Liebich went to trial in DuPage County Circuit Court. He chose to have the case decided by a judge without a jury. The prosecution contended that Liebich had severely beaten Steven, while the defense claimed that Steven had died of complications from Kenyatta’s mistreatment of him during the days prior to February 8 when Liebich was babysitting.

The prosecution’s first witness was Karen Clark, Kenyatta’s mother. Clark testified that when she saw Steven at Mount Sinai, he had a swollen right testicle, but no marks on his thighs. Clark said that later, at Rush-Presbyterian, she saw numerous marks on his thighs. “They just started appearing,” Clark said. She said they were “like whip marks, red lines on his thighs, his foot, his ankle, neck, across his stomach and…on his back and like pressure marks on his neck.”

Clark also said that she had never seen Liebich hit Steven, and acknowledged she told police that Kenyatta was an “excellent liar.”

A day care owner who was Kenyatta’s aunt testified that she cared for Steven for a time and never had any reason to believe he was abused or neglected.

Kenyatta testified that Steven was born when she was 15 years old and that her mother, Karen Clark, had been the boy’s primary caretaker. Kenyatta said she met Liebich when she was 16 and moved in with him soon after. She gave birth to their daughter on January 27, 2002, and while she was in the hospital, Steven stayed with Liebich’s great-aunt.

On February 2, Kenyatta said she and Liebich picked up Steven and brought him to their Willowbrook apartment. On the way home with the two children, Kenyatta said, they bought some PCP and stopped at a park to smoke it.

Kenyatta testified that over the next four days, Steven was fine except for a runny nose. On February 7, Steven ate only a few bites of dinner, so she sent him to his room. Liebich got home from work around 8:30 p.m. and sat at the table rolling marijuana into a blunt. Kenyatta said Liebich’s eyes were glazed and she thought he was under the influence of heroin. She said she asked Steven if he was ready to finish his dinner. When he said he was not, she sent him back to his room where he began to cry.

Kenyatta said Liebich went into the boy’s room and she heard a “hollow” sound. When Liebich came out, she asked him if he struck the boy and he said he had not. Kenyatta said she went in to comfort Steven and was joined by Liebich. They smoked the blunt and then sat on the floor smoking a cigarette, as Steven continued to cry. Kenyatta said that when Liebich told her to “shut the damn kid up,” she shoved the side of Steven’s head with her fingertips.

Kenyatta said she asked Liebich for his belt, and then struck Steven three times on his diaper with the belt. When he didn’t stop crying, Kenyatta removed his diaper and slapped his buttocks with an open hand. She put his diaper back on, and she and Liebich then left him alone. Eventually, she said, he stopped crying.

Later, Steven came out of the room and said he wanted to eat his dinner. After eating about half of it, Kenyatta allowed him to watch television for a while and then put him to bed. She said he did not appear in any distress and slept through the night.

Kenyatta arose at 9:45 a.m. the next morning and changed and fed the baby. At 10 a.m., she spoke to Steven and he appeared fine. She got dressed, left a bowl of cereal for Steven, and went to work. She returned about 4:40 p.m. and found Steven lying under a blanket on the floor of the living room. She rolled him over and his eyes were “like a cold stare.”

Liebich said Steven had been that way for about an hour. On the way to the hospital, Liebich said he had cooked and sliced up a hot dog for Steven. When Steven appeared to choke, Liebich said, he put a finger in the boy’s mouth and Steven bit him. He didn’t find any hot dog in the boy’s mouth and he seemed fine afterward.

Kenyatta said that at home, she saw four small red marks on Steven’s neck. At the hospital, the four small red marks were larger and additional bruises began appearing. When a doctor asked about a lump on Steven’s head, she said she didn’t know how it got there and that Liebich told her he didn’t know either.

Dr. Green testified that initially she believed Steven had suffered a seizure. While she found Liebich’s account of the choking not credible, she admitted that a layperson could misconstrue a seizure as a choking incident. However, when she performed a secondary review and saw the emerging marks on Steven’s body, she asked Kenyatta if she had seen these marks before. Kenyatta turned to Liebich and asked, “What did you do to my baby?”

Green testified that she noticed Steven was “posturing,” an involuntary flexion of the extremities, which was an indication of a severe head injury. When she was told that the CT scan revealed a serious head injury based on a brain bleed, Steven was transferred to Rush-Presbyterian for surgery.

During cross-examination, Green said marks on Steven’s back could have been made by a belt buckle and that marks on his buttocks could have been made by spanking.

Dr. Tracy Boykin, another emergency room physician at Mount Sinai, said she saw Liebich carrying Steven in and that the boy was limp. She thought the boy had suffered a seizure. However, when the CT scan was completed and she was informed the boy’s head was full of blood, she hurried back to Kenyatta and Liebich. She said she was angry because she believed Steven had suffered a serious head injury and that the choking was a story concocted to cover it up.

Boykin testified that it appeared that Steven hadn’t choked on a hot dog, but that Liebich had spent the day beating him. Boykin said Liebich merely shrugged when she said she was going to call the police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Boykin said the injuries were so severe that if they had been inflicted a day earlier, Steven would already be dead—that they must have occurred while Liebich was babysitting.

Letitia Beasley, a nurse, testified that when she first examined Steven, she ranked him at a 4 on the Glasgow Coma Scale used to rate a person’s consciousness. A 15 is alert and a 3 is dead, she said. Beasley said that while Kenyatta was tearful and anxious, Liebich was not tearful and had a “flat affect.”

Boykin and Green had testified that Liebich was calm and not agitated about Steven’s condition.

DuPage County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Edward Kunz testified that he arrived at Rush-Presbyterian shortly before midnight and he accompanied Liebich outside to smoke a cigarette. Liebich was pacing, and when Kunz asked him if Steven’s crying had bothered him, Liebich said, “Yes, a lot.” When Kunz asked him how he dealt with it, Liebich said he didn’t have to because usually Kenyatta cared for the boy.

Tammy Smith, a pediatric nurse at Mount Sinai, testified that she accompanied Steven and a physician in an ambulance to Rush-Presbyterian. She identified numerous bruises in photographs that she said were not visible while Steven was at Mount Sinai. She said there was a fresh bruise on the side of his head, his hands and feet were cold, his temperature was low, and he was unresponsive.

Steven arrived at Mount Sinai at 9 p.m. and went into surgery at 10 p.m. He emerged 90 minutes later. When a police officer arrived two hours later to photograph Steven, Smith pointed out marks that had become more defined since Steven’s arrival at Mount Sinai and other marks that had become visible during that same time.

Greg Figiel, a former police officer working for the DuPage County Children’s Advocacy Center testified that he interviewed Liebich at Rush-Presbyterian while Steven was in surgery. Figiel said Liebich told him that Steven had eaten his cereal that morning, but did not drink his milk. At 3 p.m., he fixed the hot dog and after Steven ate half of it, he began choking while taking a drink of water. That’s when Liebich said he put his finger in the boy’s mouth and got bitten.

Figiel said Liebich told him Steven was wheezing and breathing irregularly, so he patted him on the back and asked if he was okay. Steven said, “Yeah.” They moved to the living room and Steven laid down the floor, moaned a couple of times and fell asleep, Liebich told Figiel. Kenyatta came home about an hour later.

Figiel said he met a second time with Liebich about 1 a.m., and that he told Liebich that he didn’t believe that nothing happened at the apartment given the severe nature of Steven’s injuries. Figiel said Liebich then said for the first time that when he patted Steven on the back, the boy fell headfirst to the floor. Liebich added that it was not a hard fall, however.

At about 7 a.m. on February 9, Liebich accompanied Figiel to the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office. They stopped along the way to buy Liebich some orange juice and a hash brown from a McDonald’s and a chicken sandwich at a Burger King, arriving at 8 a.m. At 8:40 a.m., Liebich vomited his food into a wastepaper basket. Asked if he was okay, Liebich said he had a $20-a-day heroin habit. During cross-examination, Figiel said Liebich never admitted striking Steven—only patting him once on the back.

Dr. Paul Severin, a pediatrician specializing in critical care, testified that Steven’s injuries had to have been inflicted four to six hours prior to Steven’s admission to Mount Sinai. The injuries could not have occurred any earlier, he said, because Steven would not have survived to get to Mount Sinai.

Severin noted that Steven’s pancreatic enzyme level was in the thousands, while a normal level for a boy of that age was 200. He said the boy had hemorrhagic pancreatitis.

Another DuPage County Sheriff’s officer, Thomas Szalinski, testified that Liebich told him during an interview that Kenyatta struck Steven on the buttocks with the belt. When the boy didn’t stop crying, she took off his diaper and slapped his bare buttocks with her hand. Liebich told him that about midnight, Kenyatta slapped Steven in the head a few times with the palm of her hand. Liebich denied striking the boy, Szalinski said.

Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, a forensic pathologist, testified that she performed an autopsy on Steven on February 12. She documented more than 40 bruises and other marks. Some of the bruises appeared to be healing. She said the wounds were not consistent with being struck by a belt—except for one mark on his buttocks. She testified that the wounds were consistent with being whipped with a plastic clothes hanger.

Mileusnic-Polchan said she found a three-inch hemorrhage under the skin of Steven’s head, indicating blunt force trauma. She said she found a significant subdural hemorrhage on the left side of his head. She said that because surgery was performed on the right side of Steven’s head, she could not reach any conclusions about possible injuries there.

She said she found a perforated bowel and a hemorrhage around the head of the pancreas—both resulting from blunt force trauma. The injuries were consistent with child abuse and with Steven being beaten to death, she declared.

During cross-examination, Mileusnic-Polchan said that establishing when the abdominal injuries occurred was problematic because necrosis had already set in. She said the head injuries were inflicted five days—plus or minus a day—from the 11th when he died. However, she said they “could have occurred on the 8th, but they could have easily occurred before that,” even as early as February 5.

She added that she would not expect a child to eat breakfast—as Liebich said Steven did—if he had suffered the injuries the night before.

Dr. Lorenzo Munoz, the neurosurgeon who operated on Steven, testified that a CT scan had revealed “a lot of blood” in Steven’s head. Munoz said the scan revealed a fresh subdural hematoma that was diffused, which he said “speaks of a trauma to the whole brain.” Munoz said Liebich’s hot dog story was “impossible” and that the injuries occurred no more than six hours prior to Steven’s admission to Mount Sinai. He said it was impossible for Steven to have eaten, walked, talked, or drunk anything after sustaining the injuries.

Liebich’s defense attorneys called his sister, Denise Foster, who testified that on one occasion she saw Kenyatta spank Steven until he cried. On another occasion, she said, Kenyatta slapped him back-handed at least three times because he was crying.

Frank Delpedio, Liebich’s cousin, testified that he saw Kenyatta slap or hit Steven on three occasions—all because he was crying. On one occasion, she slapped him hard enough to knock him off a couch.

Crystal Zeis, who lived with Liebich and Kenyatta for a while, testified that Kenyatta struck Steven. “Every time he did something wrong, he ended up getting hit for it,” she said. Usually, this involved an open-handed blow to the side or back of the head, Zeis said, but there were other times when she hit him in the arms, legs, back or buttocks—“where ever (she) could reach at the time.”

She recalled two occasions where Kenyatta threw Steven out of the kitchen—once for spilling juice and once for putting a dirty diaper in the sink instead of the garbage.

The defense also called Dr. Shaku Teas, a forensic pathologist and child abuse expert who had testified hundreds of times for prosecutors and fewer than two dozen times for defendants. Teas told Judge Ann Jorgensen that she agreed with Mileusnic-Polchan that Steven’s death was caused by multiple blunt trauma injuries. The injuries to his abdomen were the result of punching, hitting, kicking, or some kind of crushing mechanism.

However, Teas said, a victim might experience pain for a while and then appear to be normal. Meanwhile, the perforated bowel was leaking and peritonitis would set in. She said that she believed the injuries all occurred around February 6. She also said that what Liebich thought was choking on a hot dog was a seizure caused by either a previously sustained head or abdominal injury.

On July 16, 2004, Judge Jorgensen convicted Liebich of first-degree murder. She sentenced him to 65 years in prison. In December 2007, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the conviction.

In 2011, the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School began representing Liebich in post-conviction motion for a new trial. In 2012, Mileusnic-Polchan gave a sworn affidavit saying that at the time she performed the autopsy, she had already accepted a job as deputy medical examiner for Knox County, Tennessee. When she returned in 2004 to testify at Liebich’s trial, she did not review the medical records, but testified from her autopsy report.

“Although it is routine to order medical records, I do not believe that I received the medical records in this case before completing the report and leaving for Tennessee,” she said. “I did not have an opportunity to review the slides, photographs or medical records before testifying at trial in 2004.”

She said that after reviewing the medical records in 2012 at the request of Liebich’s lawyers, she discovered a surgical report that she had never seen. That report established “that the massive subdural hemorrhage…did not exist.” Mileusnic-Polchan said that a review of autopsy slides showed that Steven had acute pancreatitis resulting from injuries prior to February 8, 2002, the day that Liebich was babysitting.

“Given the pathology, it was improbable that any injuries occurred on February 8. Instead, the child’s collapse appeared to be the end result of a process that began days earlier,” Mileusnic-Polchan said.

The medical records showed that Steven was taken to surgery for evacuation of a large subdural hemorrhage based on the CT scan. However, “little or no subdural hematoma was found during surgery,” she said.

Mileusnic-Polchan said that the records showed that as a result of the pancreatitis, Steven’s body had lost the ability to regulate bleeding and clotting, resulting in “easy bruising.” That explained the sudden appearance of bruises that were believed at the time to be the result of child abuse, Mileusnic-Polchan concluded.

“My recent review of the autopsy slides confirms that the child had myocarditis (damaged heart cells) and an older pancreatic injury (at least 10 days old) that would have made him more vulnerable to trauma or infection…There is no indication of trauma on the day of admission,” Mileusnic-Polchan said.

Attorneys Heather Kirkwood and Tara Thompson along with the DuPage County Public Defender’s Office filed a petition to vacate Liebich’s conviction based on nine affidavits from medical experts including Mileusnic-Polchan and Dr. Teas, Liebich’s expert at trial. Among the experts was Dr. Patrick Barnes, a pediatric radiologist and neuroradiologist at Stanford University, who said the initial CT scan showed no evidence of soft tissue swelling, fractures, or other abnormalities.

Barnes explained that a misdiagnosis occurred due to the misinterpretation of the initial CT scan combined with poor communication among doctors. Moreover, in the years since Steven’s death, subsequent medical research showed that the lack of oxygen to the brain—as occurred in Steven’s case—could have non-traumatic origins, Barnes said.

Dr. Michael Laposata, professor of pathology and medicine at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, reviewed the medical records and concluded that Steven’s collapse was the result of a perforated bowel that led to pancreatitis. This caused the coagulation that resulted in the appearance of bruises, which is sometimes diagnosed as child abuse.

DuPage County Circuit Judge John Kinsella denied the motion without a hearing. In March 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed that ruling and ordered that a hearing be held on the petition.

During the hearing, the experts testified in line with their affidavits. Testimony also was presented that said the “whip” marks were the result of bruising caused by the coagulation problem as well as the result of treatment—primarily tubing that was wrapped around the boy.

On September 14, 2018, following several days of testimony, Judge Kinsella vacated Liebich’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge ruled that Liebich’s attorneys had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to fully investigate and discover the medical records that Mileusnic-Polchan, Teas, Barnes, Laposata, and the other medical experts all testified were evidence that whatever caused Steven’s perforated bowel occurred prior to the day Liebich was babysitting.

“Evidence to challenge the entire theory of the state’s case was available and could have and should have been known to defense counsel,” Judge Kinsella ruled. “The evidence could prove that there was no evidence of head trauma, and that the brain injury was caused by the abdominal injury which all available evidence suggests occurred well before February 8. Further, some scientific evidence exists that would challenge the existence of any traumatic injury.”

On September 24, 2018, Liebich was released on bond pending a retrial. The prosecution said it would appeal the ruling. However, on April 13, 2019, the prosecution dismissed its appeal.

On April 17, 2019, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin dismissed the charge. Berlin said in a statement that he had received a letter from Mileusnic-Polchan in February in which she said that Steven’s “death did not occur through actions taken on February 8, the day Steven was admitted to the hospital. Steven Quinn died from abdominal injuries that were present at least two days before hospital admission. Some were older. It continues to be my opinion that Steven died from inflicted blunt force injures. These injuries occurred days before hospital admission, with some occurring earlier. Steven was a chronically mistreated child.”

Berlin said that he could no longer support the prosecution of the case because “the evidence is insufficient to prove Randy Liebich guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/20/2019
State:Illinois
County:Dupage
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:65 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No