46-year-old Michelle Heale was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter and child endangerment in the 2012 shaken-baby death of 14-month-old Mason Hess. However, she was acquitted of murder – had she been found guilty of those charges, she could have been looking at life in prison without the possibility of release on parole.
In the month-long trial prosecutors contended Heale, who was in charge of babysitting Hess, shook him violently on August 28, 2012, causing him severe injuries that ultimately led to his death.
According to the testimony given by Heale during her examination, Heale was trying to burp Mason when he began choking on applesauce. She told jurors she brought him off her shoulder “quickly” without supporting his head which caused it to snap backwards.
Heale called 911 and after authorities arrived to the home, Mason was taken to Community Medical Center in Toms River. He was later airlifted to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he was pronounced dead on September 1, 2012
A medical examiner ruled Mason’s death a homicide caused by blunt cerebral trauma, authorities said.
Heale wept softly when the forewoman announced the jury had acquitted her of the murder of Mason Hess. When the verdict was read that she was guilty of aggravated manslaughter and child endangerment, Heale sobbed and insisted she was innocent. At one point, Heale turned to her husband and the rest of her family who were in the courtroom and said, “But I didn’t do anything,” a phrase she repeated several times after the verdict according to her defense attorney S. Karl Mohel.
Prior to the trial Heale was offered a plea bargain, however she refused to accept any plea offers because she stated that she was innocent of all charges and didn’t want to spend a single day away from her family.
Mohel asked presiding Superior Court Judge Francis J. Vernoia to allow his client to remain free on $250,000 bail until sentencing, however his plea was rejected by the judge. Vernoia stated that due to the fact that Heale is a flight risk as she faces “two very, very serious crimes” and “a very lengthy prison sentence.”
With the motion to remain free on bail rejected, Heale, the mother of 5-year-old twins, turned toward her husband and said, “Mike, just love the babies” and “make sure they’re safe.”
As Heale was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, she kept asking her husband to take care of the children.
Mohel told reporters that he felt that the jury got the verdict wrongand plans to appeal.
“I’m happy she was acquitted of the murder charge (but) when you have a client that’s totally innocent of everything, you don’t want her convicted of anything.”
Sentencing for Heale will be on June 26, three days before what would have been Mason’s fourth birthday. She faces between 10 and 30 years.
If you’re looking to hire a babysitter, it’s important to do a proper background check to help ensure safety and peace of mind. Fortunately, the widespread availability of public records and online databases means it is possible to learn about the people you need to interact with everyday.