Court: No new trial in Baylee Stenman murder

Left: An undated courtesy photo of Baylee Stenman. Right: Leo Ackley in court on Nov. 22, 2011.

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The man convicted of murdering a Battle Creek 3-year-old should not get another trial, the state appeals court has ruled.

Baylee Stenman, 3, died of a subdural hematoma — blood on the brain caused by head trauma — in August 2011. Her mother’s boyfriend Leo Ackley was convicted of her murder in April 2012 and sentenced to life in prison.

Ackley appealed. In September 2013, a Calhoun County judge decided he was entitled to a new trial because the defense counsel in the original trial did not effectively defend him. Ackley’s new attorney Andrew Rodenhouse of Grand Rapids said the previous attorney failed to introduce an expert witness who would have testified that Baylee’s severe head injuries were caused by a fall.

In a ruling released Wednesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals overruled the county judge, deciding Ackley should not get a new trial. That means Ackley’s conviction and sentence to life in prison will stand.

Ackley can appeal the appellate court’s ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

A Wednesday statement from Rodenhouse reiterated his opinion that an expert witness could testify “Baylee  likely died as the result of an accidental fall.”

Rodenhouse said he “will not stop until [Ackley] is exonerated or his appeals are exhausted.”

Rodenhouse’s full Wednesday statement:

“We are devastated by the ruling of the Michigan Court of Appeals. We believe that the trial court was correct in granting Leo a new trial because his trial attorney failed to investigate a proper causation defense into whether or not Baylee Stenman died from an accidental short fall. This exact issue has been likened by others more knowledgeable than us as the next Innocence Project. Specifically, Leo’s trial attorney was told by Dr. Hunter, an expert that he retained before trial, that there were other experts available who could testify that children can and do die as a result of accidental short falls, and he failed to contact any experts to testify to this. Leo’s appellate team at Rodenhouse Kuipers, P.C. retained one of those experts that the trial attorney was referred to, Dr. Werner Spitz, who stated in an affidavit that Baylee likely died as the result of an accidental fall. We believe, and the trial court agreed, that had the jury heard this testimony, there was a reasonable likelihood of a different result. In short, we believe that attorneys are required to zealously advocate for their clients; which, at the very least, requires trial counsel to investigate evidence that is known to them that will likely demonstrate the client’s innocence. The failure to do so is especially egregious when the client is facing the possibility of life in prison without ever having the possibility of parole.

“Therefore, we intend to keep up the vigorous fight on Leo’s behalf through all possible means and will not stop until he is exonerated or his appeals are exhausted.”

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