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Lisa Randall Update: Peoria woman exonerated by judge seeking $12.6 million

New information about the Lisa Randall case which David M Cantor, a Phoenix Criminal Lawyer, had her case dismissed with prejudice last year for first degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Today a story by the Arizona Republic talks about how Lisa Randall is now seeking $12.6 Million in damages from Maricopa County.

A Peoria day-care provider exonerated by a judge in a death-penalty murder case involving the 2007 sudden death of a baby boy is seeking $12.6 million in damages from the city and Maricopa County.

The claim was filed by Lisa Randall, 50, who spent more than five months in jail awaiting prosecution.

Eventually, two grand juries refused to indict her and a judge dismissed her case with prejudice.

The claim asserts that police and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas built a capital-murder case against her despite several red flags and conflicting medical evidence that raised questions about why 4-month-old Dillon Uutela died at the day care.

Last August, a judge threw out the case with prejudice, meaning Randall can never be charged again for Dillon’s death.

Randall’s claim adds to the $150 million-plus list of claims and counterclaims filed against the county in the wake of prosecutions and political battles waged by the offices of Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose actions are under investigation by several federal and state agencies.

Randall’s claim names Thomas and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Arpaio and his office, the county Board of Supervisors, the County Medical Examiner’s Office, Peoria, its police department and some officers.

It asserts that Randall’s legal defense cost her $220,000 and that she lost her husband, her livelihood and her home in the process. Randall claims lost income, legal fees, emotional distress and suffering.

On April 18, 2007, Randall had gone to another room to change a child’s diaper and returned about 20 minutes later to her Peoria day-care living room to see Dillon lying dead.

Ninety minutes earlier, his parents had dropped off a seemingly alert, playful boy. Randall was the only adult in the house. She frantically dialed 911 and attempted to revive him.

County medical examiners found extensive bleeding in Dillon’s eyes and a small crack in his skull, and they noticed swelling and some bleeding in the brain. The official report: Dillon was killed by blunt-force trauma – a blow.

Investigators, then prosecutors, blamed Randall.

Randall had been running a day care for 25 years. State records show there had never been a complaint against her. Other children with Dillon that day said they didn’t see anything happen.

On Mother’s Day 2007, police interrogated her. Randall said they told her Dillon was being buried that day, and they hoped every Mother’s Day would be hell for her.

“Kids have been my entire life, and to be accused of hurting any child . . . ” Randall said in an interview, breaking down as her voice trailed off. “How could I look myself in the mirror?”

Randall wasn’t formally charged until seven months later, after the Peoria detective on the case wrapped up the first and only murder investigation he has done. The officer and the county medical examiner on the case declined interview requests on the advice of attorneys.

Randall recalled how officers cuffed her in front of her home.

She said she kept thinking, “Don’t do this in front of my kids, because they were all crying.”

Cracks in the case emerged.

A grand jury declined to indict Randall. A judge dismissed the case with prejudice. It was remanded back to a second grand jury.

There, jurors took an unusual step of asking for Randall’s testimony. A judge ordered that she appear in civilian clothes. But on the day of her hearing, sheriff’s officials couldn’t find a female officer to be present for her changing. When she showed up in jail clothes, her attorney, David Cantor, objected.

Three days after a judge released Randall from jail in January 2008, Thomas filed a direct complaint and had her rearrested and jailed. He filed notice that he intended to seek the death penalty.

By mid-2008, Randall’s defense team gathered sufficient medical testimony to raise doubts. Dillon had been running a high fever, had stayed away from the day care and received inoculations before dying.

Doctors who treated him before he was removed from life support found no signs of the trauma reported by county medical examiners. Defense medical experts said brain swelling from illness could have caused the skull fractures and bleeding. Another crack was a naturally formed structure in infant skulls.

There was no outward mark on Dillon’s body, and pathologists ruled out a baby-shaking death. They stuck to the theory of a fatal blow. All of this came out in testimony during a preliminary hearing in June 2008 to determine if Randall could be released on bond.

After two days of medical and police testimony, Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe ruled there was enough probable cause to charge Randall – but not enough evidence to hold her without bond.

“I can see this as a not-guilty verdict at trial. And even if they were to find her guilty, I’m not sure I’ve got substantial evidence that this is a death-penalty case. I think if I were the sentencing judge, based on what I’ve heard so far and the information I have, I’m not sure I’d impose the death penalty,” Donahoe told attorneys.

Randall was released from custody and wore an ankle monitoring bracelet as her case churned on.

After months in jail, the threat of execution was unmoving.

“I didn’t care – (it) did not matter. I’d rather be dead than live in that place,” she said. “I knew I could stand before God and know I didn’t do anything wrong. Whatever he had planned, I was OK with.”

On Aug. 4, 2010, Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp threw out the entire case with prejudice. Prosecutors did not appeal.

Kemp cited conflicting medical evidence, including a prosecution medical expert who had concluded two months earlier: “There is no evidence that Dillon Uutela died as a result of blunt-force trauma.” The expert concluded that “the cause of death remains unknown.”

Kemp also noted a lack of obvious motive, supportive statements from Randall’s clients, and testimony by children at the day care that Randall hadn’t done anything to Dillon.

Then, Kemp cited the clincher: A month earlier, county prosecutors recommended 8-0 to dismiss the case because there “was no reasonable likelihood of conviction,” let alone enough to send Randall to death row.

Randall’s case was one of 49 open death-penalty cases reviewed last year by Thomas’ interim successor, Rick Romley, before its dismissal.

Romley found that 23 death-penalty cases – nearly half – did not merit capital punishment.

Between 2005 and 2009, Thomas charged 161 death-penalty cases and resolved 103. Of those, 16 – or 10 percent – resulted in a murderer going to death row. That’s more than all the death-penalty convictions in Dallas and Houston combined during that time, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of figures obtained from prosecutors in Arizona and Texas.

Thomas, now in private practice, said in an e-mail response to questions about the case that he was honoring his promise to be tough on crime.

However, he has been accused of being overzealous in other, unrelated prosecutions of county officials during his term.

Based on a review of Thomas’ actions in those other cases, a panel of the state Bar of Arizona recently recommended stripping him of the right to practice law in Arizona.

Thomas is fighting the recommendation.

Randall says she has lost faith in the legal system.

“They didn’t want the truth,” she said of her accusers. “They wanted a win.”

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