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Phantom Murder: At the 11th Hour, Prosecutors Dropped a Murder Charge Against a Beloved Daycare Operator -- Leaving the Death of Baby Dillon a Medical Mystery

Phantom Murder: At the 11th Hour, Prosecutors Dropped a Murder Charge Against a Beloved Daycare Operator -- Leaving the Death of Baby Dillon a Medical Mystery
Kyle T. Webster

On Monday, July 19, a top aide to Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley told New Times that prosecutors will file a motion to dismiss murder and child-abuse charges against Lisa Kathleen Randall, whose case is the subject of this story.

Cindi Nanetti, division chief over major crimes, said senior prosecutors reviewed the case in an Incident Review Board meeting earlier Monday and unanimously concluded that "we cannot say with any certainty that a murder was committed."

Nanetti said the turning point for her office came after the internal review board analyzed a report authored recently by the prosecution's own expert, Dr. Cliff Nelson of the state medical examiner's office in Oregon. Nelson's conclusions were similar to those of other experts — prosecution and defense — that the official cause of death listed by Maricopa County pathologist Dr. Kevin Horn in late 2007 — "blunt-force trauma of the head and neck" — was totally wrong.

"These are highly emotional cases that are tragic all around," Nanetti said, "but we have to rely on the experts, who are telling us that this very, very possibly wasn't a murder after all. Even the doctors who once were sure about the blunt-force trauma, including Dr. Horn, tell us they can't disagree with Dr. Nelson's conclusions. We are obliged not to move forward with this. It's our duty."

Randall's trial was scheduled to start August 2, more than three years after the April 2007 death of 4-month-old Dillon Uutela. Peoria police arrested Randall after a grand jury indicted her on the charges.

Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp is expected to dismiss the case at a hearing on July 22.


Dillon Uutela's last hours of consciousness began on the morning of April 18, 2007, a mere 133 days after his birth.

He was the only child of Tara and Jason Uutela, a young Surprise couple who moved to Arizona from Washington state in 2005.

Dillon had been under the weather for about three weeks, first with an ear infection and then with a nagging fever contracted after a series of vaccination shots.

On April 16, the infant's pediatrician wrote that Dillon was suffering from "viral syndrome," though Dr. Nicholas Pham didn't order blood tests to confirm his diagnosis. Pham's case notes say he told Tara to return in a few days if Dillon wasn't feeling better.

She continued to treat her baby with Tylenol, and on the morning of April 18, the Uutelas decided to resume their previous weekday routine.

Jason Uutela later told a police detective that he arose for work that morning in the predawn hours. Dillon was sleeping in his crib.

Tara Uutela had returned weeks earlier to her job at a bank and was working afternoons. She awoke about 6:45 a.m., fed Dillon a bottle of formula about 7 and then about 9:30, the latter feeding about a half-hour earlier than usual. (The infant ingested just three ounces of the five-ounce bottle during the 9:30 feeding, a detail that later would come into play.)

Tara planned to drop Dillon off later that morning with Lisa Randall, a woman in her late 40s who ran a small daycare business out of her home on West Cherry Hills Drive in Peoria.

The Uutelas first had hooked up with Lisa through Tara's work supervisor, Sarah Randall (Lisa's daughter-in-law). The couple started taking Dillon there on weekdays, for three or four hours at a stretch, in early March, and it was working out fine.

Lisa was calm and patient, and the other children at the home (usually four or five at a time) always seemed happy.

Tara did some shopping with Dillon at Arrowhead Mall (she bought him a little NASCAR shirt), and then drove to Lisa Randall's home.

She carried the infant, still strapped in his car seat, to the front door and said her goodbyes about 11:30.

Both Tara and Lisa later agreed in separate police interviews that Dillon seemed fine — alert and not the least fussy.

Tara asked Lisa to feed Dillon a bit earlier than usual, because his schedule was a little off and he hadn't finished his second bottle that morning.

Eleven children (Dillon was the youngest) were at Lisa's that day, double the usual number. As the only adult on-site, Lisa was busy with endless tasks — changing diapers, fixing lunch, wiping mouths, emptying the dishwasher.

Lisa would tell police that, after Tara left, she eventually took Dillon out of the car seat, played with him, and then placed him on a blanket on the floor in the family room.

Per Tara's instructions, Lisa intentionally put Dillon on his stomach for "tummy time," which provides a break for the back of a baby's head, allowing the infant to strengthen neck muscles and prepare it for crawling.

As time passed, two 5-year-old boys (one of them was Lisa's grandson Blake) moved onto a couch in the family room, waiting for Lisa to turn on a DVD of Charlotte's Web.

 

About 12:30, Lisa went to the kitchen to fix a bottle for Dillon, roughly 30 minutes earlier than usual, following Tara's instructions. She also grabbed a clean diaper for the baby before stepping over to the family room.

She gently turned Dillon over on his back to change the diaper.

To her horror, the infant was ashen, cool to the touch.

Lisa briefly tickled his feet trying to rouse him, but Dillon remained unresponsive.

She had been around children her entire adult life as a mother, grandmother, kindergarten teacher, and daycare operator, and had dealt with the array of typical childhood bumps and bruises.

But nothing even close to this had ever happened on her watch, an infant who wasn't breathing and appeared at death's door.

Lisa picked up Dillon and rushed him to the kitchen, breathing into his mouth as she dialed 911.

"Help me! Help me! Oh, my God!" she screamed into the phone. "I don't know why he stopped breathing! Help me! Help me!"

Peoria police later alleged that Lisa said during the 911 call, "What did I do?" which suggested to them an admission of criminal responsibility.

But even after repeated listens, a county judge determined it is very difficult to say for sure what words Lisa had shrieked: She may well have cried out, "What do I do?" referring to her ongoing resuscitation efforts. (Even if Lisa Randall did use the past tense, it sounded more like a plaintive wail than any kind of confession.)

Emergency personnel rushed Dillon to Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, about four miles from Lisa's home.

Doctors there got Dillon's heart going again, but his condition was critical, his brain deprived of oxygen for precious untold minutes.

A CT scan of Dillon's head at Banner Thunderbird showed "no acute findings," nor any "evidence of intracranial hemorrhaging" — nothing that immediately suggested possible child abuse.

Dillon remained at Banner Thunderbird for about an hour before he was taken by helicopter to Phoenix Children's Hospital and its sophisticated pediatric intensive-care unit.

Subsequent testing at Phoenix Children's revealed Dillon was bleeding inside the protective layers of his brain, which was badly swollen. (When excess fluid enters the skull, it may cause the brain to dangerously swell and slosh around as the flow of blood to the brain decreases. Causes of such swelling, according to the Merck Manual medical library, are myriad.)

Tellingly for doctors at Phoenix Children's, the retinas in Dillon's eyes showed distinct signs of hemorrhaging. (The retina is light-sensitive nerve tissue at the back of the eye. It may bleed when tiny vessels on its surface rupture, sometimes after an incident of violent shaking or another injury.)

Doctors eventually detected what they suspected were two small fractures of Dillon's skull, including one "depressed" fracture that suggested a blunt-force injury of some kind.

Remarkably, though, they found no external sign of injury to the infant's head — nary a bruise, bump, or scrape.

According to the medical literature read by New Times, skull fractures occur only when a child's head makes profound contact with an object — a floor, a wall, a fist.

"When you see bruises, you have to start thinking that there's something else going on," Dr. David Posey, a pathologist hired by the Randalls, testified later during a court hearing. "There's absolutely nothing there at all."

Doctors in child-abuse cases involving brain damage often uncover injuries to the body indicative of apparently intentional wrongdoing, including damage to the arms, ribs, abdomen, or legs sustained during an assault.

But Dillon had suffered no injuries to his body that could be attributed to abuse.

Still, within a few hours of Dillon's arrival at Phoenix Children's, his treating physician had seen enough evidence to tell a Phoenix police detective that it looked to him like a "pretty classic" case of child abuse.

Dr. Adam Schwartz was referring to what is widely known as "shaken baby syndrome" and to the presence of the supposedly ironclad diagnostic "triad" said by many (not all) medical specialists to point to child abuse: brain bleeding and swelling, plus retinal hemorrhaging. (The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a federal Web site, estimates that 1,200-1,400 children suffer from shaken baby syndrome each year in the United States, with a mortality rate of about 30 percent.)

Dr. Jennifer Geyer, a forensic pediatrician at the hospital, quickly concluded that Dillon's injuries definitely were inflicted during his one hour at Randall's home. The baby would have deteriorated almost immediately after suffering brain trauma, she told Detective Robert Webber that day.

That timing would become a linchpin of the case that Peoria police immediately began to try to build against babysitter Lisa Randall. But, much later, it and everything else in this tragic case would come under serious scrutiny, especially after specifics and ranges of possible causes for Dillon's brain and retinal damage came to light.

 

Late that afternoon, Detective Webber asked Dr. Jerald Underdahl, an ophthalmologist at Phoenix Children's, whether Dillon's retinal hemorrhages were consistent with a punch or impact with enough force to crush a skull.

Absolutely, the doctor replied, according to Webber's report.

But Underdahl also said Dillon's retinal injuries could be up to two days old, a key observation that would get short shrift by authorities in what later became a first-degree murder case.

If the doctor was correct, Lisa Randall's attorney would allege, the retinal damage might not have been inflicted during the fateful hour at Randall's home, if it actually was inflicted at all.

Tara and Jason Uutela learned at Phoenix Children's that doctors already were suspecting child abuse as the cause of their baby's dire condition.

Before the day ended, they also learned that Dillon's prognosis for survival was nil.

Dillon Uutela died on the evening of April 20 after he was taken off life support.

His body was taken to the Office of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner for an autopsy, after which the Uutelas held a funeral service in their native Washington.

In Peoria, police were sure they were investigating a murder — and that 47-year-old Lisa Randall, a woman with no criminal history and a spotless record as a loving caretaker of hundreds of children, was the killer.

Their suspicions got a boost months later when pathologist Kevin Horn of the local Medical Examiner's Office listed the baby's cause of death as "blunt-force trauma of head and neck."

The manner of death, according to Dr. Horn, was "homicide."


Skip ahead a few years from Dillon's death in April 2007 to a Superior Court hearing in the case of State of Arizona vs. Lisa Randall.

Randall was arrested on first-degree murder and child-abuse charges in November 2007, shortly after Dr. Horn issued his chilling postmortem report. Her tortured legal saga would take her in and out of custody (seven months in all) and, until recently, she had been staring at a death sentence if convicted.

The courtroom for the June 2008 hearing is packed with people there to support her. Randall's backers consist of far more than her five grown children (she is divorced from their father and separated from her second husband) and other family members.

She is charged with murdering a helpless 16-pound baby who was in her sole care and custody for about an hour.

Yet she has supporters who include the parents of many of the children whom Randall babysat on the day Dillon stopped breathing at her home.

The diminutive Randall sits on a front-row bench holding hands with her youngest child, 18-year-old Brenna. She pulls together a brief, tired smile for those around her and then looks straight ahead, wearing a quietly forlorn expression.

Jason and Tara Uutela sit on the other side of the courtroom, next to a victim's advocate provided by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. The couple has been convinced that Lisa Randall's guilty since the doctors at Phoenix Children's in April 2007 first invoked the words "child abuse."

Randall has been out of jail on $160,000 bond since June 2008, released on house arrest after Superior Court Judge Gary Don­ahoe ruled that the murder case against her, though it reached the low probable-cause threshold allowing it to proceed, seemed less than solid to him.

"I know the state doesn't have to prove any motive," Judge Donahoe said from the bench, "but . . . I don't see any motive in this case. Ms. Randall has been in this business for, what, 26 years, or something. There's no indication that she was mad or upset, no indication that she just had a fight with her husband or any of those children. I mean, what's leading up to this shaken baby, dropping the kid on the floor, or slamming the kid on the floor?"

Donahoe, considered a prosecution-leaning judge by most, concluded at the June 2008 hearing, "I can see this as a not-guilty verdict at trial."

Since her release that month from jail, Lisa Randall has been forced to wear an ankle bracelet at all times. She works at a supermarket during the day and takes care of a man who has Lou Gehrig's disease.

Then she goes home, which is a room she shares with her daughter Brenna at a residence whose location they prefer to keep private.

Lisa is not allowed under the terms of her release to be alone with her seven grandchildren.


Many child-abuse cases include valid confessions, overwhelming physical and circumstantial evidence of wrongdoing, and other factors that make it apparent that defendants are guilty.

 

But a New Times analysis suggests that the murder case against Lisa Randall isn't in that mold.

Instead, the reasons that Dillon Uutela died remain shrouded in medical controversy, with experts disagreeing vehemently on critical aspects of the evidence.

Several questions hover over the case.

One is whether the infant was the victim of child abuse at all.

To some medical experts involved in the case, Dillon may suffered from an underlying disease (possibly leukemia) that triggered the internal events that led to his death.

Another expert opined earlier this year that, as one doctor later suspected, "a SIDS-like event [led] to respiratory, and then cardiac arrest."

"I don't believe that anyone hurt Dillon on purpose or accidentally," Lisa Randall's attorney, David Cantor, said last week. "As much or more than any client I have ever represented, I truly believe that my client is as innocent — actually innocent — of this crime."

But the County Attorney's Office had contended since late 2007 that Randall was a monster of the highest order.

Others disagreed that the methodology used to charge people like Lisa Randall was valid.

DePaul University law professor Deborah Tuerkheimer concluded in a 2009 journal article titled "The Next Innocence Project: Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Criminal Courts" that recent scientific research has cast doubt on that "triad" noted earlier: the bleeding and swelling in the brain and retinal hemorrhaging.

Tuerkheimer writes that the presence of all three factors in a case has been — wrongly, from where she sits — "in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder."

The new research, she says, "has cast doubt on the forensic significance of this triad, thus undermining the foundations of thousands of shaken baby syndrome convictions."

Several medical journal articles corroborate the professor's point of view, revealing that experts are in serious disagreement as to whether the existence of the "triad" is proof-positive of child abuse.

Dr. Patrick Lantz, a medical examiner in North Carolina, said at a 2006 meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Science:

"Contrary to what many doctors have been taught, we found [in a years-long study] that the number and location of hemorrhages of the eyes' retinas aren't always proof of child abuse . . . Retinal hemorrhages occur in child abuse, but they don't always mean a child was abused."

And there is the issue of the supposed telltale bleeding in the protective layer between Dillon's skull and his brain.

Recent medical studies show that people who suffer brain bleeding similar to Dillon's, which in his case supposedly was an epidural bleed, may not show signs of serious injury for many hours.

A well-known example came in March 2009, when actress Natasha Richardson died after what first seemed a minor fall on a Canadian ski slope. Hours passed before Richardson took ill, slipped into a coma, and soon died.

Experts call the period of time before the effects of a brain injury kick in a "lucid interval," and medical journals report that it can occur in infants as well as adults.

The "lucid interval" is important in the Randall case because it means Dillon could have gotten injured — again, if he was injured at all — hours before Lisa Randall ever saw him that day.

Is it possible that Dillon Uutela did seem fine (even though he still had that viral infection) on the morning of April 18, 2007 — first to his parents and then to Randall — until he just stopped breathing?

The answer, according to defense expert David Posey, a pathologist from La Canada, California, is yes.

Posey also surmised that Dillon may have been suffering from an undiagnosed case of acute lymphocytic leukemia, a blood cancer characterized by a greatly elevated white blood-cell count.

As possible evidence, Posey notes that Dillon's white blood-cell reading at the two hospitals after he stopped breathing was about five times what would be considered normal.

Laboratory tests on April 18 also showed a low red blood-cell count, indicative of anemia and other medical issues that Dr. Posey has claimed could not have been caused by blunt-force trauma.

"When Dillon was admitted to the hospital on April 18, 2007, he was a very sick little baby," Posey wrote in May 2008. "No external injuries are found on Dillon, yet he had very abnormal blood tests that could not have been caused by trauma of any type.

"No physician caring for Dillon or the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy used the laboratory tests to analyze and explain why Dillon was suddenly found unresponsive. They focused only on alleged trauma and not on the medical facts and data they had in front of them."

As Dr. Posey sees it, the lack of subdural hemorrhaging (by far the most common type of brain bleeding seen in child-abuse cases) and the absence of any injury to Dillon's neck or any external evidence of injury tell him that "the findings reported in this case are not those of the shaken infant syndrome either with or without impact."

 

Instead, he suspects that an illness may have caused Dillon's brain to swell and move around, which led to the epidural and retinal bleeding, perhaps even the supposed skull fractures.

Posey suggested that medical personnel may have caused the tiny "depressed" skull fracture — if that's what it was — during their emergency treatment of the infant.

But not even Lisa Randall's defense experts agree on the most likely cause of baby Dillon's death, other than to say it's not what prosecutors say it was.

Last January, Dr. F. Ralph Berberich of Berkeley, California, concluded that the infant may have been the victim of sudden infant death syndrome.

The doctor wrote that "it would appear most likely that this baby, in recovery phase from a viral illness, had a SIDS-like event leading to apnea and cardiopulmonary arrest from which he was resuscitated. There followed the physical effects, laboratory abnormalities and organ failure associated with profound and prolonged apnea."

Berberich concluded that "it would likely [be] held unwise, but not negligent, to place a 4-month-old infant in prone position on a blanket without constant supervision."

But prosecutors and their medical witnesses — doctors from Phoenix Children's Hospital and the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on the baby — were expected to testify that the defense experts were wrong.

Dillon would have shown immediate signs of severe neurological damage after suffering the blunt-force trauma, prosecutors alleged during pretrial court hearings and in police interviews.

"This is a non-accidental blunt-force injury case," key prosecution witness Dr. Kevin Horn testified in 2008, "and that baby would have been affected right away after it was inflicted. I am very sure of this."

Prosecutors Belle Whitney and Frankie Grimsman suggested that the stress placed upon Dillon's body by the trauma caused his white blood-cell count to soar, not leukemia or another underlying disease process.


The scene at Lisa Randall's home after the emergency crew took Dillon Uutela away on that early afternoon in April 2007 was chaotic.

Peoria police officer Renae Hoffman described how an "extremely upset" Lisa Randall was on the phone with her son Ryan when she arrived, shrieking that Dillon had just stopped breathing and she didn't know why.

The parents of the other daycare children soon came by to pick up their kids and see what was happening.

A Peoria detective spoke by phone with Tara Uutela, who had called Lisa's home number. "I asked Tara if she ever had any concerns about Lisa caring for Dillon or if she ever expected Dillon was being abused. Tara said she did not have any concerns at all about Lisa. Dillon seemed to be happily thriving under Lisa's care."

That was what all of the other parents told police.

Lisa Randall gave her first interview to the Peoria police in her bedroom. It was consistent with what she repeated several times to the cops over the few weeks.

Randall said she hadn't a clue why Dillon stopped breathing.

Peoria detective Kevin Moran soon was assigned to lead the investigation. The Randall case would be Moran's first as lead detective in a homicide investigation.

On April 19 and again on April 20, the Peoria police asked Lisa Randall to come to the station to go over a few things.

She readily agreed, and showed up alone both times, without an attorney or family members.

The detectives played "good cop" at first, telling Randall they weren't going to read her the Miranda Warning against self-incrimination because she wasn't a suspect.

They allowed her to say whatever she wished, while listening for inconsistencies — such as maybe that she had shaken Dillon too hard when she was trying to revive him.

But she said nothing in hours of interrogations that approached an admission of criminal culpability.

On April 26, a forensic interviewer spoke with Anthony Ramirez, one of the 5-year-olds in the family room a few feet from Dillon when the infant went into cardiac arrest.

However, Anthony didn't prove fruitful to the police; quite the contrary.The interviewer, Wendy Dutton of the ChildHelp Children's Center, asked the boy where he was when Dillon got sick.

"At Lisa's," Anthony replied. "Now, he doesn't go to Lisa's anymore."

Dutton asked whether something happened to make Dillon sick that day.

"I don't know."

So, where was Lisa when Dillon got sick?

"Cleaning the kitchen."

"Okay," Dutton continued, "I was wondering. Did Dillon get hurt?"

"Nope"

"Okay. Or did something happen to Dillon's head?"

"Nope."

And after the baby did get sick, who helped him?"

 

"Lisa."

Judge Gary Donahoe, who presided in the Randall case until turning it over to Judge Michael Kemp about a year ago, once called Anthony "the best eyewitness" — in that the boy supposedly saw nothing.

Blake Randall, Lisa Randall's grandson and the other 5-year-old in the room that day, told a psychologist that his grandma couldn't awaken Dillon from a nap. That was about it. The psychologist, Phil Esplin, found no indication from the interview that either boy had roughhoused or fell on Dillon that day.

On May 4, 2007, according to the notes of a state Child Protective Services case manager, detective Moran called with an update. It was about three weeks after Dillon Uutela's death.

The case manager, Jennifer Ingalls, wrote that Moran said doctors in the Randall case were not on the same page about the timing of Dillon's injuries.

Dr. Geyer, from Phoenix Children's, was adamant that Dillon's injuries could have happened only at Randall's home. But, Moran told Ingalls (according to her notes) that Dr. Kevin Horn — who performed the autopsy — and an associate of Horn's had told him, "It is possible that Dillon was not hurt at the babysitter's home. [They] are still making their assessment as to the time frame for the injury."

The CPS case manager added that Moran was trying to organize a meeting between the doctors at Phoenix Children's and the Medical Examiner's Office.

That meeting happened a few days later, according to records obtained by New Times. Case manager Ingalls later summarized in writing what Moran told her about it:

"All the doctors [now] agree that, with the severity of Dillon's injury, the trauma happened at the babysitter's home."

A year later, Dr. Horn insisted during pretrial testimony that the CPS case manager was in error, and that he hadn't told the Peoria cop anything of the sort.

(In a turn of events, prosecutors later attacked CPS case manager Ingalls in writing for inappropriately going beyond the scope of her duties in allegedly documenting the detective's remarks to her.)

On May 10, the Peoria investigators decided to play hardball with Lisa Randall, if she was naive enough to submit to one final interview.

Detective John Krause called Randall at home and made his pitch. She said she would be right there.

She spoke briefly to a few of her children before driving by herself to the Peoria police station.

"We really didn't want her to speak to the cops anymore," recalls Lisa's oldest child, Jared, a firefighter in Sun City. "It was clear to us by then that they thought she was a baby killer, but she just wanted to help them."


At the meeting, Detectives Moran and Krause ask Randall yet again to rehash the details of April 18, 2007.

"What do you think happened?" Moran inquires.

"I don't know," she says. "I mean, SIDS? That's all I can think of, or his shots he had 10 days prior because he had a fever like non-stop . . . I keep rethinking, is there something I missed? Is there something I could have done to prevent it? Is it because I laid him on his stomach."

Randall repeats for the umpteenth time that Dillon was "fine. He was smiling, he was so happy" that day.

Moran asks Randall whether she is religious.

"I used to be," she tells him. "You know what, I'm not feeling very religious right now."

She blurts that she's not sure whether she would keep working in daycare.

Why, Detective Moran asks.

"Because I'm so scared," Randall says.

"I mean, if it wasn't your fault . . ."

"I won't take my eyes off them I'm so scared."

"Why are you scared if you think it's not your fault?"

"I swear to God I know I couldn't do anything different, but you're still responsible. And I couldn't live through that happening again. You think, even if it's not my fault and it's proven, do you think that makes me feel any better? It doesn't."

Moran tries a different tack, telling Randall that "sometimes bad things happen. They happen to all of us, okay?"

"I would give everything, anything, just to change it," Randall says, apparently not picking up on the detective's thread.

"I know he's in a better place, but he was in a good place here. And that's why I'm having such problems with it. [His parents] loved him."

More pointedly, Moran asks her if there was "an accident" of some sort.

"Oh, God, no! I would tell you. Like what?"

Detective Moran now proposes something in the interest of "closure."

He asks Randall if she would be willing to take a voice-stress analyzer test.

(Many police departments utilize the tests, but their reliability has come under serious attack from many corners. "There is little or no evidence — scientific or otherwise — for the application of voice-stress analysis in the detection of deception," a Defense Department study recently concluded. Results of voice tests are inadmissible in Arizona courts.)

 

Randall says she would be willing to take the test, then and there.

Moran leaves the room for a few minutes and returns to tell her that, unfortunately, the department's voice-stress "detective" isn't immediately available.

The subject of Dillon's autopsy comes up.

"Dillon has some severe trauma to his head," Moran tells her.

"No way."

"Yes."

"From what?"

"That's what we're trying to find out."

"Oh, my God!"

"Lisa, if there's something that you need to tell us."

"I swear on my grandkids, on my life, on my mother's grave, I swear to God, no!"

"Here's the problem we're having, Lisa . . . In a case like this, we are totally at the mercy of the doctors and the medical experts."

Those "several" medical experts, Moran tells her, are saying "it happened at your house . . . This is why we want to offer you [voice-stress analysis] because, like I say, the doctors are telling us we have to point the finger at you."

No, Randall says over and over, there was no accident — no fall off the couch, no bang of the head on the edge of the counter, no nothing.

Detective Moran then tries this one:

"They're going to bury their son on Mother's Day, Lisa. On Mother's Day! And you're telling me that nothing happened in there."

Randall doesn't budge.

She leaves the police station in tears, finally realizing that the cops believe she is a murderer.

Despite her stated reticence, Randall stayed in the daycare business after Dillon Uutela's death, in part because most of the parents whose children were at her home that day reaffirmed their trust in her.

Her sister came onboard to help her, because no one in the family wanted her to be alone with the kids in case, God forbid, something else went wrong.

Months passed.

Dr. Horn of the Medical Examiner's Office issued his damning postmortem report in October 2007, calling Dillon's death a homicide.

Soon after that, a county grand jury indicted Lisa Randall on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

Randall was feeding breakfast to her daycare kids on the morning of November 29, 2007, when someone knocked on the door.

Several Peoria police cars were parked in front.

An officer handcuffed Randall and led her out of her front door, for a trip to the Maricopa County Jail.


Andrew Thomas, the Maricopa County Attorney at the time, announced the arrest at a press conference.

Thomas said no decision yet had been made about seeking the death penalty.

Lisa Randall was held on $500,000 bond.

The Randalls are not a wealthy family, but Lisa's five siblings agreed to try to hire a good defense attorney to represent her. They retained David Cantor, a hard-working Tempe-based lawyer who doesn't come cheap.

Randall's son, Jared, explains how they raised the money: "My brother took out a loan for $60,000. The remainder of the initial fees came from what little savings we had. I refinanced my truck, sold a vehicle, an aunt sold her home, my mom's good friend gave a large amount of an inheritance, my sister-in-law's mom and husband took out a large loan, we sold my mom's house, had approximately 10 car washes, a charity concert at a local restaurant, and some folks here at work helped out with some money, as well.

"I was working three jobs to help keep up with the fees. One of my mom's friends also put up their house as collateral for the bond — the 10 percent cash [for the bond] came from family and friends."

The dollar amount so far, according to Jared Randall, has been about a quarter-million dollars.

"It's not cheap to prove your innocence," he says.

In January 2008, Gary Donahoe reduced Lisa Randall's bond to $160,000 after a hard-fought evidentiary hearing in which it became apparent to the judge that the prosecution's case was, at the least, fraught with questions.

The family collected the necessary $16,000 in cash and put up a home as collateral in the unlikely prospect that Randall split for parts unknown.

But she was free for only a few days.

In a move that reeked of we're-tough-on-crime politics, Andrew Thomas' prosecutors suddenly announced that they would seek the death penalty against Lisa Randall.

She again was yanked into custody, this time without the opportunity to make bail.

But in April 2008, Judge Donahoe remanded the Randall murder case to the grand jury, citing misrepresentations and omissions by Peoria detective Moran during his presentation to the panel.

 

Donahoe gave prosecutors one month to secure a new indictment and ordered them to present their case against Randall to the tribunal more accurately.

During the new proceedings in May 2008, the grand jury asked prosecutor Belle Whitney if it could hear from Lisa Randall.

Cantor, Randall's attorney, told Whitney that his incarcerated client was eager to appear, so long as he could be present and Randall was allowed to dress in civilian clothes.

Randall composed a statement that she planned to read to the grand jury, scheduled to meet May 22, 2007.

She was going to tell them a little about herself — born at Phoenix Good Samaritan Hospital in 1961, one of 11 children, graduated from Phoenix East High, mother of five, grandmother of seven.

If allowed, she also wanted to tell them that her only previous brush with the law was a traffic ticket at age 16.

Randall planned to go into everything she recalled about April 18, 2007, and would conclude, "I did not harm Dillon in any way, nor did I see any of the children in the house harm Dillon."

Cantor brought a dress to court on the scheduled date for Lisa's grand-jury testimony. But the Sheriff's Office (which then was in an escalating war with the Superior Court administration, especially then-presiding criminal judge Donahoe) did not provide a female detention officer to watch her change.

Citing security concerns, the deputies wouldn't allow Randall to don civilian clothes without a female officer on hand.

Cantor wasn't about to let his client appear in a black-and-white striped jail jumpsuit. Randall's grand-jury testimony was canceled.

An irate Judge Donahoe soon granted a defense motion to dismiss the murder case but left the door open legally for prosecutors to file new charge.

The judge also ordered Randall's immediate release from custody, under house arrest.

Within days, the County Attorney's Office filed a "direct complaint" with the court instead of seeking an indictment.

Judge Donahoe heard testimony at a preliminary hearing to determine whether prosecutors had shown "probable cause" to move the Lisa Randall case forward.

Donahoe ruled that they did.

Lisa Randall was locked up yet again.

But the judge soon took the rare step of allowing the death-eligible defendant to re-post the $160,000 bond, which led to a third release from custody.


It's early July, a month before the scheduled start of Lisa Randall's murder trial.

Legally, not much of import has happened in the Randall case in the previous two years, except for the recent decision by prosecutors not to seek the death penalty against Lisa anymore.

New Times is at the beautiful Peoria home of Carl and Andrea Cox, parents of three children, ages 12, 11, and 8. Cox's mother opens the front door for her son, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and is wheelchair-bound.

Though his body is broken, the 40-year-old Cox's mind is keen and his attitude about life positive.

He ran his own insurance company in Central Phoenix until illness made that impossible a few years ago. His wife is the human resources director for a large company.

Same as Jason and Tara Uutela, the Coxes looked around for a daycare home when their firstborn child was about 3 months old.

"We interviewed Lisa and asked a lot of questions," Cox recalls, smiling at the memory. "We got such a great feeling from her and her family, and it was the right feeling. We put our kids' lives in her hands day after day, for years, and I can honestly say she was a like an angel to them."

He says he and his wife were floored in 2007 when they learned of her arrest for murdering and abusing an infant.

"There's absolutely no way that happened," Cox says. "I know, you never know. But I do know. This woman doesn't have a mean bone in her body, and she lives to help and love children."

The Coxes reached out to the Randall family after the arrest, offering Lisa a part-time job after she was released on bond.

"I need someone to help me out when my wife is working and my kids are at school or somewhere, and Lisa is perfect," Cox says.

"You know, we're alike, her and I. We both have had our freedom taken from us in the most unexpected ways, and it hurts."

Randall's son Jared says life as she knew it won't ever be the same.

"When the day comes," he says, "and my mom walks out of that courtroom for the last time, her life is still a mess, and she's still an accused baby killer.

"Get this straight. I feel for Dillon's parents. I really do. I am a parent myself, and I know what loving your kids is about. And I know that people do abuse children. But my mom didn't do anything to that baby, and they can't prove she did."

Lisa Randall feeds one of her seven grandchildren.
courtesy of the Randall Family

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