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Day care worker on trial for murder in toddler's death

Ben Kingan, who died after being in the care of Minee-Subee in the Park, a Lincolnshire day care center. (Courtesy Kingan family)

Amy Kingan said her 16-month-old son, Benjamin, was healthy and happy when she dropped him off at the Minee Subee day care center in Lincolnshire early on Jan. 14, 2009.

The next time she saw her youngest son was that evening at the Libertyville hospital where he died after abruptly falling unconscious at the day care center.

“We were allowed to hold him and say goodbye,” Kingan said Wednesday, her voice breaking as she wiped away tears in a Lake County courtroom.

Kingan testified as the murder trial opened for former day care worker Melissa Calusinski, accused of killing Benjamin by hurling him so violently to the floor he suffered fatal head injuries.

Calusinski, now 24, lost her temper with the toddler when he fussed about having his hands washed after snacking on animal crackers and fruit juice, Lake County prosecutors told jurors.

“She slammed Ben Kingan to the floor because when she took him out of the chair after his snack he was throwing a fit,” Assistant State’s Attorney Christen Bishop said.

Defense attorneys argued there’s no evidence Calusinski killed the Deerfield boy ­– or that his death was even a murder.

Police coerced a videotaped confession from the then 22-year-old Carpentersville woman, who has a barely functional IQ of 74 and repeatedly insisted during 10 hours of questioning that she hadn’t harmed the boy, defense attorney Daniel Cummings argued.

His autopsy showed Benjamin had a previous, undiagnosed head injury that could have caused his death, Cummings said, noting the boy had vomited repeatedly two days before his death — a sign that he might have already sustained serious brain injuries.

“This child had prior head trauma. The child was not well,” Cummings told jurors, contending Ben sometimes threw himself backwards during temper tantrums, occasionally striking his head.

Bishop scoffed at those claims, saying the boy had been healthy until Calusinski threw him down so powerfully “she saw his head bounce on the tile.” Benjamin’s twin sister, Emily, was in the room when her brother was fatally injured.

After striking his head, Benjamin managed to pick up his blanket and crawl to his favorite bouncy seat, where he was discovered unresponsive about 30 minutes later, Bishop said. The toddler died later that day at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.

While acknowledging her son had vomited two days before his death, Amy Kingan said by the next day “he was laughing, he was playing with his toys.”

When she took him to the day care center for the last time, “he was fine,” Kingan said, fighting back tears.

Calusinski, who frequently wiped away her own tears as Kingan testified, faces up to 60 years in prison if she’s convicted of first-degree murder in the boy’s death.