Jury may soon get case of baby's death in day care

02/07/2013 12:00 AM

02/08/2013 5:24 PM

Almost two years after little Avin Rominger stopped breathing inside Sheila Caceres' day care home, a Sacramento Superior Court jury is expected to begin deciding as early as today whether Caceres could have done more to save the baby boy.

The defense rested Wednesday on the seventh day of trial and did not call the 32-year-old Caceres to testify.

Instead, defense attorney Joe Welch relied heavily on testimony from two paid experts, one of whom declared that 10-week-old Avin died of sudden infant death syndrome and that nothing could have been done to save the baby's life.

The prosecution has maintained that Caceres delayed calling 911 once she saw Avin was in distress, then gave conflicting stories to detectives called in to investigate the child's death.

Authorities also believe a series of phone calls between Caceres and her family members late the afternoon of Avin's death are evidence that she made panicked calls to relatives but not to 911 after discovering the boy in distress.

The precise cause of Avin's death has never been determined. The coroner ruled it sudden unexplained infant death syndrome, but also concluded that medical intervention could have saved the baby's life.

Prosecutor Nancy Cochrane and Welch are scheduled to deliver their closing arguments this morning, after which Sacramento Superior Court Judge Sharon A. Lueras will turn the case over to the jury.

Welch closed out the defense case Wednesday morning with three final witnesses, including two former clients of Sheila's Garden Day Care, which operated out of the Caceres home on Grafton Circle in the suburban neighborhood of Mather, filled with young families, parks and a nearby elementary school.

Emma Baier, who had two young children enrolled at the day care home, testified that she saw nothing out of the ordinary the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2011, the day Avin died.

Baier said she arrived some time between 3:45 p.m. and 3:50 p.m. and stayed about 45 minutes, or just about half an hour before 911 was called.

"Just typical, there was nothing out of the ordinary," Baier testified. "We talked and they were just everyday mundane things."

Baier was called by the defense in an apparent effort to refute the prosecution theory that Avin was in distress before 5 p.m. that day and that Caceres knew it and delayed calling 911.

Caceres faces a felony child endangerment charge and could face up to six years in prison if convicted. She also faces a misdemeanor charge that she let infants sleep in the upstairs of her home in violation of state fire safety regulations.

Avin's father arrived at the home shortly before 5 p.m. that day and said Caceres greeted him at the door as though nothing was wrong, went upstairs to get Avin and came running down screaming for him to call 911.

That emergency call came in at 4:58 p.m., and authorities believe Caceres knew at some point before that time that Avin was in trouble but did not seek help.

Another client testified Wednesday that he arrived to the sight of emergency vehicles outside the Grafton Circle home and immediately feared they might be there for his daughter.

"As I turned down the street, I saw emergency vehicles all over the place and, obviously, as a parent I panicked, hoping it was not my child," Glen Graham said.

He said as he rushed inside he saw Avin being taken out on a gurney and that he knew the boy was dead because he had turned blue.

He added that he took Caceres' teenage daughter over to her grandfather's house and that she was completely distraught.

"She was just beside herself," Graham testified. "She told me lots of different things about what had happened; she was just panicked."

Caceres had run the home for six years at the time, once being honored as a "provider of the year" by Sacramento County.

After Avin's death, she accepted a lifetime ban by the state from ever again operating, working in or being inside a day care home, although she maintained she had done nothing wrong.

The complexity of the case – the lack of a certain cause of death and the conflicting stories detectives were told – resulted in a lengthy investigation that did not produce charges until October 2011.

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