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Lindhorst v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 27, 2017

Christine Marie Lindhorst, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Allen Superior Court. The Honorable Frances C. Gull, Judge. Trial Court Cause No. 02D06-1510-F3-68

          Attorney for Appellant Nikos C. Nakos Fort Wayne, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Larry D. Allen Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Barteau, Senior Judge

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1]Christine Marie Lindhorst appeals her convictions of battery resulting in serious bodily injury to a person less than fourteen years of age, a Level 3 felony;[1] and neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, a Level 3 felony.[2] She also appeals the sentence imposed by the court. We affirm.


         [¶2]Lindhorst raises three issues, which we restate as:

I. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in limiting Lindhorst's cross-examination of an expert witness.
II. Whether there is sufficient evidence to support Lindhorst's convictions.
III. Whether Lindhorst's sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] The parents of S.E., an infant girl, hired Lindhorst to babysit her at Lindhorst's house while they were at work. Lindhorst began taking care of S.E. when S.E. was eight weeks old. On the morning of May 26, 2015, two days before S.E.'s first birthday, S.E.'s father dropped her off at Lindhorst's house. At that time, S.E. could crawl, but she could not walk or climb, and she could not pull herself up to a standing position. Her father recalled that S.E. appeared normal and healthy that morning, with no signs of injury.

         [¶4] Later that morning, Lindhorst called S.E.'s mother to inform her that S.E. had fallen on a wooden floor "an hour ago" and had a "bump on her head." Tr. Vol. II, p. 80. She further stated S.E. had begun vomiting and she was taking her to the hospital.

         [¶5] Lindhorst took S.E. to Dupont Hospital, arriving there at 11:36 a.m. Lindhorst told hospital staff that S.E. had been standing up and fell over onto a wooden floor two hours prior to arriving at the hospital. Nurse Cory Hentgen examined S.E. and saw swelling on the left side of her head. S.E. was responsive but fussy and irritable. S.E.'s parents arrived at the emergency room, and her father noted she had swelling on the left side of her head and was whimpering.

         [¶6] Hospital staff took a CAT scan of S.E., which revealed she had a fractured skull and cerebral bleeding. After the scan, S.E. was less responsive to stimuli. Hospital staff sedated S.E., put her on a ventilator, and transferred her to Lutheran Children's Hospital. To Hentgen, S.E.'s injury seemed too severe to have resulted from a simple fall. In twenty years of working as a nurse, Hentgen had never seen such an injury result from a child falling over onto the floor. Hentgen notified Lutheran's staff that they needed to call Child Protective Services (CPS) for an investigation of the circumstances of her injury.

         [¶7] S.E. arrived at Lutheran's emergency room at 1:39 p.m., where she was examined by Nurse Donna Ancil. Ancil saw redness and swelling on her head. Ancil read S.E.'s chart and determined, based on her experience as a nurse trained in treating neurological injuries, that S.E.'s injury could not have resulted from merely falling over onto the floor. Instead, that type of injury was caused by "either a blow to the head or propulsion, as in a push and propulsion into something." Id. at 70-71.

         [¶8] Several doctors examined S.E. and her scans. Dr. John Bormann, a radiologist, determined S.E. had a "depressed skull fracture, " which is a "pretty significant injury" involving a portion of bone being pushed into the brain. Id. at 120. The bone fragment was depressed by four millimeters and caused bleeding that was putting pressure on the brain. Dr. Bormann later stated that such a head injury could only have been caused by a "high-velocity impact, " such as a fall from ten to twenty feet onto hard ground, meaning concrete. Id. at 122. Falling from a standing position or even from a couch or bed would be "very unlikely" to cause the injury. Id. In over twenty years as a radiologist, Dr. Bormann had never seen an injury like S.E.'s caused by a fall onto the floor. To the contrary, an injury like this caused him to consider whether there was a "non-accidental" cause. Id. at 129.

         [¶9] Dr. Jeffrey Kachmann performed emergency surgery on S.E. to relieve the cranial pressure, stop the bleeding, and correct the fracture. He cut out a piece of her skull and installed a temporary drain in her scalp to remove excess blood. Dr. Kachmann observed S.E.'s brain was contused "because of the tremendous impact of the force that occurred here." Tr. Vol. II, pp. 229-230. A large blood clot had formed, which had pushed the brain against the right side of the skull. Based on his examination of S.E. and later seeing a picture of the floor where Lindhorst alleged the fall occurred, Dr. Kachmann concluded "there's no way, no way this injury could have occurred from that impact." Id. at 230.

         [¶10] Dr. David Smith, a pediatric surgeon, examined S.E. on May 26, 2015, after her emergency surgery. He reviewed her CAT scan and other doctors' reports and examined her "head to foot." Id. at 138. He concluded S.E.'s skull fracture and resulting hematoma and retinal hemorrhages were caused by a "significant blow to the head" involving "a large amount of force." Id. at 139. Based on his experience, a ground-level fall or a fall from a couch or chair would not usually result in this severe of an injury. Simply falling onto the floor was "very unlikely" to cause S.E.'s injuries. Id. at 140. In his opinion, the injury was caused by "non-accidental trauma." Id. at 148. He further concluded that S.E.'s condition had been life-threatening, and she would have had visible symptoms of distress up to hours before arriving at the emergency room.

         [¶11] S.E.'s father spoke with Lindhorst after he arrived at Lutheran. She told him the same thing she told S.E.'s mother and hospital staff: S.E. had fallen over onto a wooden floor. Meanwhile, police officers and CPS arrived at Lutheran to investigate the incident. Detective Randy Morrison spoke with S.E.'s parents and Lindhorst separately. Lindhorst told Detective Morrison that S.E. fell over onto a wooden floor and hit her head. She also told Morrison that S.E. vomited on her, but Morrison did not see or smell vomit on Lindhorst. Later that evening, Lindhorst gave a written statement to Detective Morrison, restating that S.E. was injured by falling onto the floor.

         [¶12] After S.E.'s surgery, S.E.'s parents were barred from visiting S.E. at the hospital pending the results of CPS's investigation. S.E. stayed at Lutheran for a week. Lindhorst and S.E.'s father had a conversation via text messages during the week, and Lindhorst asked him "if we were pressing charges on her." Id. at 31.

         [¶13] CPS would not allow S.E.'s parents to take her home after the hospital released her. Instead, she was placed in her uncle's custody for two days, until CPS ended its investigation. S.E.'s parents took her to follow-up appointments with her pediatrician and a pediatric neurologist. They also took her to an ophthalmologist to examine her retinal hemorrhages. As of the time of trial, S.E. had started walking and seemed to be developing normally, but there is permanent scarring on her brain tissue. As she ages, there is a risk that ...

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