Home daycare operator found guilty in child's death in Mississauga

A woman accused of killing an infant girl at her home daycare in Mississauga, Ont., in January 2011 has been found guilty of manslaughter.

The victim, a 14-month-old girl, died two days after severely injured at a unlicenced daycare

Duy-An Nguyen, a 14-month-old girl, died after sustaining severe head injuries at a Mississauga home daycare.

A woman accused of killing an infant girl at her home daycare in Mississauga, Ont., in January 2011 has been found guilty of manslaughter.

April Luckese, of Mississauga, was found guilty by a judge today in a Brampton, Ont., courthouse in the death of Duy-An Nguyen, a 14-month-old girl. 

Duy-An died from injuries sustained at April's Daycare, an unlicensed private daycare that was run by Luckese out of a townhouse near Cawthra Road and the Queen Elizabeth Way.

Duy-An suffered severe head injuries, was taken to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children and was taken off life support two days later. 

"I find that Ms. Luckese ... momentarily lost her patience with Duy-An and assaulted her, causing the skull fracture," Justice Gordon Lemon found.

"There is no other rational explanation for the skull fracture and undisputed symptoms. That illegal act led to the death of Duy-An. Ms. Luckese is guilty of manslaughter."

Luckese was first charged with aggravated assault. That charge was upgraded to second-degree murder after the girl died in hospital.

The murder charge was dropped and Luckese was accused of criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life. In September 2013, the charge was changed to manslaughter.

Stephen Whitzman, Luckese's defence lawyer, said he's disappointed with the verdict and may file an appeal.

Whitzman said his client, a mother of two, is devastated by the ruling.

"There's a very real chance that she's going to go to prison as a result of this," Whitzman said. 

"She was saying to me: 'What am I going to say to my children?' And I don't know how to answer that," he said.

"A lot of media coverage has focused on the fact that she was running an unlicenced daycare. The Crown's theory, which was accepted by the judge, was that she had a momentary loss of control and assaulted the child. An unlicenced daycare is not what this case is about," he said.

Had operated a daycare for over 15 years

The Crown at Luckese's trial argued the daycare provider lost her patience with Duy-An and intentionally hit the child's head on a hard surface, likely the floor.

The defence submitted that despite what Luckese may have said to police about what happened, there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to just how the child was injured.

The defence argued that if the injury to Duy-An occurred by accident or without Luckese's knowledge, she could not be found guilty.

At the time of Duy-An's death, Luckese had been offering day-care services for over 15 years, her trial heard.

Duy-An ended up with Luckese after her earlier child care arrangements fell through on short notice. The girl's first day at the daycare was on Jan. 4, 2011, court heard.

On the following day — Duy-An's second with Luckese — court heard that the child was crying throughout the day.

Court heard that Luckese told a detective at one point that when she went to pick up the child, she was "just lifeless."

Luckese called Duy-An's mother with her concerns but didn't go into detail, court heard.

Child showed signs of severe head injury

"Ms. Luckese also described checking on the child's breathing on a number of occasions," Lemon said. "If she was concerned whether the child was breathing, combined with the observations set out above, Ms. Luckese failed to perform her duty when she failed to contact 911 or obtain other medical attention for the child."

A 911 call was eventually made and paramedics arrived to find Duy-An unconscious, with breathing that was irregular and slow.

The trial heard that a neurosurgeon who examined Duy-An in hospital found her pupils did not respond to light and she had no response to painful stimuli — indications of a severe head injury.

The trial also heard that at one point Luckese told police she had tripped over a mat while carrying Duy-An and accidentally hit the child's head on a banister. Court heard that she then denied she tripped and instead said she shook the child and a few minutes later, the girl went limp.

Whitzman said Luckese immediately stopped providing daycare after the death. 

Sentencing submissions are to begin on April 21, while sentencing will be May 9. Luckese is currently free on bail.

The family of a baby who died after sustaining head injuries at a daycare mourns their loss. 1:30

With files from The Canadian Press