Jury acquits Lombard dad of murder (detailed)

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Date: 2003-11-26

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Byline: Christy Gutowski Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer

After eight hours of emotional deliberations, a jury acquitted a Lombard father Tuesday of murdering his newborn daughter.

The panel instead convicted Bruce Keintz of misdemeanor reckless conduct. Their verdict means the 34-year-old father faces year in jail - rather than the rest of his life behind bars - when sentenced Jan. 8.

Keintz, who had been stoic during the trial, immediately embraced his wife, Sandy, after the verdict was read at 10 p.m. His family rallied around him. Two hours earlier, while his fate remained unclear, the defendant cried in the hallway when saying goodbye to his other daughter, who is about 3 years old.

The verdict ended an emotional seven-day trial filled with complicated medical evidence and heart-breaking autopsy photos of a once vivacious 3-week-old baby. A few jurors also wept outside the courtroom when talking to lawyers.

"You have a man who had a history of being peaceful and loving," veteran defense attorney Jack Donahue said of the verdict. "In the end, it's just so out of character to believe he's guilty of murder."

Prosecutors Tim Diamond and Helen Kapas portrayed Keintz as an overwrought father who violently shook his adopted daughter, Alexis, on Feb. 17, 2001, despite knowing it would harm her, after the baby wouldn't stop crying. Alexis died Feb. 24 of blunt-head trauma, which is consistent with shaken-baby syndrome.

He and his wife had adopted the premature twin from a private agency in Arizona. They brought her home Feb. 6, 2001. Two days later, a pediatrician gave Alexis a clean bill of health.

Prosecutors used Keintz's own words as strong evidence of his guilt. The father called 911 after Alexis stopped breathing. He told rescuers his 90-pound Airedale had stepped on Alexis after something outside the their home at 651 N. Kramer Ave. excited the pet.

Later, Keintz altered the explanation to include an accidental fall down the stairs after police confronted him with autopsy results.

Jurors heard an audio-taped recording in which Keintz finally tells detectives he shook Alexis and then fell down the stairs with her. Keintz testified during the trial he lied about shaking the child under intense police pressure.

In convicting Keintz of reckless conduct, jurors found the father engaged in conduct that harmed Alexis but that he didn't intend to cause injuries that would kill her.

"They (jurors) obviously did not believe the defendant, but they opted instead to compromise," DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said. "That's a sad statement for the protection of children in our society."

The autopsy showed the baby had brain, spine and retinal hemorrhaging - all signs of shaken-baby syndrome. Donahue noted most such deaths also have neck injuries and bleeding in both eyes. Alexis suffered neither.

Donahue also questioned the reliability of the prosecution's medical evidence since the principle of shaken-baby syndrome is often challenged in medical science fields.

"A not-guilty verdict does not show you're soft on crime," Donahue told jurors. "It shows you're tough on justice."

He argued some of the injuries, such as internal bleeding, may have been caused by an oxygen deficiency, the child's prematurity or even the paramedics' efforts to resuscitate her.

In explaining Keintz's statements to police, Donahue told jurors the defendant never mentioned at the hospital that he fell with the infant because he had been told Alexis suffered from a lack of oxygen, not head trauma.

He repeatedly told police about the stairs after being confronted with the autopsy results, Donahue argued, but police weren't interested.

Keintz has been out of jail since March 16, 2001, after posting $100,000 bail. He had to live with a next-door neighbor since his arrest because authorities wouldn't allow him to remain in his home for the protection of the couple's other young daughter. He does not have a criminal history. Keintz faces up to one year in jail when DuPage Circuit Court Judge George Bakalis sentences him in January.

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