DuPage prosecutors drop murder charges from 2002 toddler death

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The DuPage County State’s Attorney’s office on Wednesday dropped murder charges against a man who spent nearly 17 years in custody for beating to death his girlfriend’s two-year-old son before his conviction was overturned last fall based on doubts about his guilt.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement that after reviewing the case his office concluded it “cannot ethically proceed to a retrial based on the evidence we now have.”

Last summer, DuPage County Circuit Judge John J. Kinsella heard testimony and reviewed sworn statements from a slew of medical experts who cast doubt on whether the injuries that resulted in Steven Quinn’s death could have occurred while Randy Liebich cared for the child. Kinsella overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial last September, finding that Liebich’s attorneys had not adequately represented him by failing to present available medical evidence at trial that would have challenged the state’s theory of how Steven died.

“Today’s my first real day of freedom after 17 years,” Liebich said at a press conference Wednesday. “Now it’s time to move on with my life.”

Berlin said in the statement that the dismissal of charges does not mean that they believe Liebich is innocent, and that the Sheriff’s department would continue to investigate.

In February 2002, Liebich was home watching his newborn daughter and Steven. When the children’s mother, Kenyatta Brown, got home from work Steven was unresponsive. The couple took Steven to the hospital, and as the child’s health quickly deteriorated, doctors suspected abuse.

Randy Liebich

Emily Hoerner / Injustice Watch

Exoneration Project Attorney Tara Thompson (left) and Randy Liebich (center), and attorney Joshua Tepfer (right) speaking at a press conference Wednesday after DuPage County prosecutors dropped the charges against Liebich.

Liebich, the last person who cared for the toddler, was charged and later convicted of murder. At the 2004 trial, prosecutors contended the child died as a result of a recent brain injury caused by blunt-force trauma.

The case raised questions about the reliability of now-discredited medical assumptions, previously used to convict defendants in child abuse cases involving brain injuries.

Joshua Tepfer, an attorney with the Exoneration Project who represented Liebich, said that this case highlights a larger national problem.

“Doctors are misdiagnosing abuse at a troubling level,” Tepfer said at the press conference.

Last year, attorneys from the Exoneration Project presented evidence from several medical experts who gave statements concluding that Steven’s injuries or medical issues started in the abdomen, not the brain, and developed over the course of many days before resulting in his death. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the medical examiner who had been a prosecution witness at the first trial, also testified last year, stating that evidence she received after the trial led her to conclude that Steven’s head trauma was not as significant as it was originally made out to be.