We just returned from a downtown Phoenix courtroom where a judge dismissed first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse charges in the case of Peoria day-care operator Lisa Randall (pictured feeding a grandchild).
"The dismissal is in the interests of justice," Deputy County Attorney Belle Whitney told Judge Michael Kemp, during a short hearing that was packed with Randall family and supporters.
Randall's attorney, David Cantor, told the judge that she has lost her home, her marriage, her reputation, and her freedom in the three years since Peoria police arrested her.
Our story on the Randall case, "Phantom Murder," is on Valley newsstands starting today, and of course is available on this site.
Randall was charged in the April 2007 death of a 4-month-old infant she was babysitting at her home. Dillon Uutela died a few days after suffering cardiac arrest during the one hour he was in Randall's care.
Police, prosecutors, and several medical people, including the Maricopa County pathologist who conducted the autopsy on the infant alleged that Dillon had died of "blunt-force trauma to the neck and head," and that Lisa Randall intentionally had inflicted the injuries.
Randall (read our full story for details) faced the death penalty until last month, when county prosecutors decided not to seek it anymore. But she still faced life behind bars if a jury had convicted her.
The case had been scheduled to go to trial next week before Judge Michael Kemp.
The decision to dismiss the case came last Monday after County Attorney Rick Romley asked an incident review board inside his office to take a hard look at the underlying facts -- many of which we dissected in our current story.
What seems to have been the deciding factor was a report dated June 10 that was authored by Dr. Cliff Nelson, a pathologist from Vancouver, Washington, who is a medical examiner for the state of Oregon.
Prosecutors hired Dr. Nelson to analyze the case for them as an expert witness.
But the doctor's detailed report did nothing to bolster their case against Ms. Randall. Instead, it practically ensured a not-guilty verdict.
"I cannot support the cause of death as being blunt-force trauma of the head and neck," Nelson wrote. "Not only is the conclusion unsupported, I feel most of the observations leading to that conclusion are in error."
He noted that, "at this point the cause of death remains undetermined . . . I have had other cases thought [by pediatricians] to be deaths due to inflicted head trauma by which after complete death investigation proved the result of a SIDS-like event."
We'll be doing a follow-up story on this tragic medical mystery of a case in next week's paper.
We will discuss then how the departure of County Attorney Andrew Thomas (to run for Arizona Attorney General) probably was the best thing that could have happened to Lisa Randall -- who did not, repeat not, get off on a "legal technicality" but because the case against her turned out to be deeply flawed.
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Right after the hearing, Lisa Randall said this:
"I am going to try to start up my life all over again. I don't know what I am going to do."