Court Ruling Denies Convicted Child Killer New Trial

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Leo Ackley (Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections)

CALHOUN COUNTY, Mich (April 24, 2014) – A convicted child killer that thought he was getting a new trial learned this week he won’t after a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling.

In 2012, Leo Ackley was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree child abuse for the death of 3-year-old Baylee Stenman.

Online records show he’s currently serving a life prison sentence in Manistee County.

Both investigators and medical examiners would determine Stenman died from a brain injury while under Ackley’s care.  Prosecutors proved that Stenman’s injuries were the result of physical abuse, leading to his initial conviction.

Ackley maintained the 3-year-old fell out of bed while sleeping, causing the injuries that led to her death.

Ackley would later appeal the conviction, claiming he was entitled to a new trial because his attorney failed to challenge the non-accidental theory of death presented by the prosecution’s experts with a defense expert.

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Baylee Stenman (file photo)

A Calhoun County judge would later rule in Ackley’s favor, granting him a new trial, which prosecutor’s then appealed.

That led to a review by the Michigan Court of Appeals this week who says a new trial won’t be granted because Ackley’s council in part “…did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness, because his decision not to consult a second expert constituted trial strategy.”

In response to the ruling, Ackley’s appellate attorney, Andrew J. Rodenhouse, issued this news release.

“We are devastated by the ruling of the Michigan Court of Appeals. We believe that the trial court was correct in granting Leo a new trial because his trial attorney failed to investigate a proper causation defense into whether or not Baylee Stenman died from an accidental short fall. This exact issue has been likened by others more knowledgeable than us as the next Innocence Project. Specifically, Leo’s trial attorney was told by Dr. Hunter, an expert that he retained before trial, that there were other experts available who could testify that children can and do die as a result of accidental short falls, and he failed
to contact any experts to testify to this. Leo’s appellate team at Rodenhouse Kuipers, P.C. retained one of those experts that the trial attorney was referred to, Dr. Werner Spitz, who stated in an affidavit that Baylee likely died as the result of an accidental fall. We believe, and the trial court agreed, that had the jury heard this testimony, there was a reasonable likelihood of a different result. In short, we believe that attorneys are required to zealously advocate for their clients; which, at the very least, requires trial counsel to investigate evidence that is known to them that will likely demonstrate the client’s innocence. The failure to do so is especially egregious when the client is facing the possibility of life in prison without ever having the possibility of parole.”

“Therefore, we intend to keep up the vigorous fight on Leo’s behalf through all possible means and will not stop until he is exonerated or his appeals are exhausted.”

You can read the entire 6 page opinion from the Michigan Court of Appeals by clicking here.

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