Woman who ran unlicensed daycare guilty of manslaughter in baby’s death

Mi Thu (right), a cousin of 14-month-old Duy-An Nguyen, carries a photo at the child's funeral in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday, January 12, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO – A Toronto-area daycare provider accused of killing a child in her care was found guilty of manslaughter on Monday after a judge determined she lost her patience and assaulted the toddler, causing a skull fracture.

April Luckese, 40, was found guilty in the death of 14-month-old Duy-An Nguyen.

The little girl was discovered unconscious and unresponsive in Luckese’s home – an unlicensed daycare centre – on Jan. 5, 2011. She died in hospital two days later.

“I find that Ms. Luckese … momentarily lost her patience with Duy-An and assaulted her, causing the skull fracture,” Justice Gordon Lemon found.

“There is no other rational explanation for the skull fracture and undisputed symptoms. That illegal act led to the death of Duy-An. Ms. Luckese is guilty of manslaughter.”

Luckese’s defence lawyer said it was “very possible” his client would be appealing the judgment, which was delivered in a Brampton, Ont., court.

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“She is devastated,” Stephen Whitzman said of Luckese.

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The Crown at Luckese’s trial argued the daycare provider lost her patience with Duy-An and intentionally hit the child’s head on a hard surface, likely the floor.

The defence submitted that despite what Luckese may have said to police about what happened, there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to just how the child was injured.

The defence argued that if the injury to Duy-An occurred by accident or without Luckese’s knowledge, she could not be found guilty.

At the time of Duy-An’s death, Luckese had been offering day-care services for over 15 years, her trial heard.

Duy-An ended up with Luckese after her earlier child care arrangements fell through on short notice. The girl’s first day at the daycare was on Jan. 4, 2011, court heard.

On the following day – Duy-An’s second with Luckese – court heard that the child was crying throughout the day.

Court heard that Luckese told a detective at one point that when she went to pick up the child, she was “just lifeless.”

Luckese called Duy-An’s mother with her concerns but didn’t go into detail, court heard.

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“Ms. Luckese also described checking on the child’s breathing on a number of occasions,” Lemon said. “If she was concerned whether the child was breathing, combined with the observations set out above, Ms. Luckese failed to perform her duty when she failed to contact 911 or obtain other medical attention for the child.”

A 911 call was eventually made and paramedics arrived to find Duy-An unconscious, with breathing that was irregular and slow.

The trial heard that a neurosurgeon who examined Duy-An in hospital found her pupils did not respond to light and she had no response to painful stimuli – indications of a severe head injury.

The trial also heard that at one point Luckese told police she had tripped over a mat while carrying Duy-An and accidentally hit the child’s head on a banister. Court heard that she then denied she tripped and instead said she shook the child and a few minutes later, the girl went limp.

Luckese, who has been out on bail, is expected to be sentenced on May 9.

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