After 14 years, DuPage judge overturns murder conviction

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Willowbrook man Randy Liebich will get a new trial, a DuPage County judge ruled Friday, upending the murder conviction that has left Liebich in prison the last 14 years for the death of a toddler in his care.

Dupage County Circuit Judge John J. Kinsella ordered a new trial at a hearing Friday, finding that Liebich’s trial attorneys had failed to adequately represent him by not presenting evidence that challenged the prosecution’s medical testimony of how two-year -old Steven Quinn died in 2002. “Evidence to challenge the entire theory of the state’s case could have and should have been known,” Kinsella said.

Kinsella said there was a “reasonable likelihood” that Liebich would have been acquitted at his trial had the trial judge, Ann B. Jorgensen, heard the testimony presented in hearings this year that older abdominal injuries likely caused the child’s collapse and death.

Liebich’s case was given a second look after appellate court judges reviewed several affidavits from medical experts that cast doubts about whether the toddler’s injuries could have been inflicted while he was alone with Liebich. A panel of three appellate court judges in 2016 ordered the hearing to consider whether the public defenders’ poor understanding of available medical evidence fell below an adequate level of representation.

Among the evidence presented this year by attorneys from the University of Chicago Exoneration Project, which represented Liebich, was testimony from Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the medical examiner who had been a prosecution witness at the first trial, who contended that evidence she was only shown since the trial caused her to revise her view on how significant injuries to the toddler’s brain were.

In closing arguments last week, attorneys for Liebich and prosecutors sparred over whether Mileusnic-Polchan had changed her testimony. Thursday afternoon, in a telephone interview with Injustice Watch, Mileusnic-Polchan said the evidence she belatedly was provided led her to conclude that head trauma, originally believed to be the primary cause of the child’s death, was not as significant as it was made out to be.

In Kinsella’s ruling Friday, he noted Mileusnic-Polchan’s testimony, summarizing that she acknowledged she had not been able to review evidence before testifying in Liebich’s 2004 trial, and seemed to now downplay the significance of the head injury.

Kinsella said despite his reluctance to find Liebich’s trial attorneys ineffective, he was setting the matter for a new trial.

Tara Thompson, an Exoneration Project attorney representing Liebich, said after the ruling that the decision was “a long time coming,” and that Liebich is very hopeful. Now, her team will focus on getting Liebich released on bond pending a retrial.

A spokesman for the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office said the office is reviewing the court’s decision.