SALT LAKE CITY — A Murray woman was found not guilty Thursday of abusing a toddler in her day care years ago, but jurors were unable to reach a verdict on charges related to two other children.
Kami Kay Tollefson, 45, showed little emotion as the decision was read but accepted a congratulatory pat on the shoulder from a family member once the jurors had left the room. Her attorney, Scott Williams, declined to comment as Tollefson left the courtroom.
Meanwhile, quiet cries could be heard from the children's parents.
Tollefson was charged in 2010 with three counts of child abuse, a second-degree felony, in connection with the injuries of three children under her care. The five-man, three-woman jury also had an option to convict Tollefson of a lesser offense of negligent child abuse, a class A misdemeanor, on each charge.
Prosecutors alleged that Tollefson hit, squeezed or shook the three children, then returned them to their parents with little explanation. In opening and closing arguments during the trial, they maintained there were "too many injuries, too many stories, and one common denominator" in the children's cases.
But Tollefson's attorneys maintained that evidence in the case was minimal, while three unfortunate accidents had been lumped together and labeled a crime. In his opening statement, Williams said Tollefson took the blame when the children's frightened parents became "victims of hasty, dogmatic conclusions" by doctors "looking for child abuse" in any injury.
The children have recovered from their injuries over the years, while their parents followed the case through the court system.
Tollefson was acquitted of injuring an 18-month-old boy, Aiden Campbell, who was somehow deprived of oxygen for an estimated 30 seconds while in her care in 2009, to the point that the blood vessels in his face began to burst.
During the trial, Williams had argued that no sufficient evidence had been presented as to explain how Aiden was injured, and accidental causes couldn't be ruled out.
A mistrial was declared for the two counts on which jurors were hung.
In one instance, 16-month-old Isaak Crandall was hit so hard by something while at the day care in 2008 that his pancreas split, requiring emergency surgery.
Tollefson offered multiple explanations, according to prosecutors, including telling Isaak's parents the boy had perhaps slipped on a toy car and fallen, or had taken a tumble down some stairs. She later told police she had found the boy lying on the ground by a swing set, where he could have fallen or been hit by an older child.
Williams argued that the possibility of an accident on the swing set had not been disproven.
In the other, 13-month-old HaLee Miller suffered head trauma in Tollefson's home in 2010, leaving internal bleeding and detached retinas. She was rushed by ambulance and medical helicopter to Primary Children's Hospital, where doctors said she had been violently shaken by someone of adult strength, causing bleeding in her brain.
Pointing to evidence HaLee's brain had bled prior to that day, Williams called the girl "tragically fragile" due to the possibility that her skull was too big for her brain, leaving her prone to accidental injury.
Tollefson's case has dragged on for eight years as she changed attorneys, rescheduled trial dates and negotiated with prosecutors. The case ultimately proceeded to trial after the children's mothers implored 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy to reject a plea deal that would have required no jail time and no admission of guilt from Tollefson.
After seven days at trial, jurors deliberated the case for about five hours Wednesday. After returning Thursday morning, they indicated shortly before 11 a.m. that they could not reach a unanimous verdict on two of the three charges.
Third District Judge Randall Skanchy gave the jurors an instruction to resume deliberations, keeping in mind that they should not change their individual opinions just to return a verdict, but that they should be willing to change their decision if the evidence persuaded them.
The jury returned their decision about 2 p.m.
Steven Miller, HaLee's father, said the hardest part about the jury ending up hung on the charge involving his daughter is that the case that has plagued his family for years will remain ongoing.
"Today we wanted to end this chapter of our lives, and that didn't happen," he said.1 comment on this story
However, as they left for court this morning, Miller said he had assured his wife that no matter what happened, the case "doesn't affect our home and the love we have for our children."
In light of the jury's decision, the hung charges could go to trial again, end in a plea deal or be dismissed.
Miller is adamant he doesn't want a dismissal but believes his family couldn't bear the stress of another trial. If a plea deal is offered, he hopes it will include an admission of guilt from Tollefson and an assurance she won't care for any more children.
Prosecutor Donna Kelly said it was unknown Thursday how they would proceed with the hung charges.