Local woman accused of child’s death found not guilty

Relates to:
Date: 2010-03-30

by: Caitlin M. Dineen

A former state Department of Children and Families employee charged with causing the death of an infant in her care in 2008 was found not guilty on Monday [March 29].

Seven-month-old Michael Brown Jr. was in the care of 44-year-old Mansfield resident Suzanne Listro for a week when on May 19, 2008, according to Listro, the infant fell off a bed and died.

According to police testimony, the fall would have been 26 inches from the top of the bed to the linoleum floor in Listro’s bedroom.

However, the state’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Wayne Carver, concluded that the child died from a “blunt traumatic head injury” and ruled the death a homicide.

Listro, of 260 Stearns Road, was charged July 16, 2008 with first-degree manslaughter and risk of injury to a minor. She pleaded not guilty in December 2008.

Earlier this year, Listro waived her right to a jury trial, and opted for a bench trial with one judge deciding the verdict. Listro’s emotional 15-day trial concluded March 22.

On Monday, Rockville Superior Court Judge William Bright declared Listro not guilty of both first-degree manslaughter and risk of injury to a minor, because evidence presented during the trial could not be said to have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Listro had harmed the child.

“I’m not saying this was an accident,” said Judge Bright. “I don’t know.”

After reading his ruling, Judge Bright addressed the infant’s father, Michael Brown Sr. and said he was sorry for the loss of Brown’s son. “Everybody would like answers,” he said. “But I can’t give them to you.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Leaming contended during the trial that the true cause of the child’s death was that Listro lost her temper, shook the baby and struck his head against an unknown surface.

During testimony, expert witnesses for defense and prosecution disagreed with one another that shaking could cause the death of a child or that short falls - defined as less than 5 feet - could be fatal.

The judge concluded, however, that there was no strong evidence that the child died from being shaken.

And with no eyewitnesses, no external injuries and no confession, Judge Bright decided there was “reasonable doubt” that Listro did anything to hurt the child.

“I have a reasonable doubt this may be, in fact, the rare short fall case that leads to a fatality,” he said.

Leaving the courthouse, both Listro and Brown Sr. declined to comment.

Hartford-based attorney Hope Seeley, one of two attorneys representing Listro, said she was pleased with Judge Bright’s verdict.

“The judge said it all… Not guilty,” Seeley said.

When reached at her office Monday evening, Seeley further stated her appreciation for Bright’s ruling. The case was complex and laden with medical facts and opinions, she said. “We’re very pleased we had a judge who took the time, who reviewed all the evidence,” she said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Leaming could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

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