A mistrial was declared late Monday night in the case of a Maryland day-care owner who’d researched “Broken Bones in Children” on the Internet a week before an infant girl died who had been under his care.
The 12-member jury in Montgomery County deliberated over two days but couldn’t reach unanimous verdicts to charges of assault, child abuse and murder lodged against Kia Divband. The 36-year-old, who testified during the three-week trial, operated Little Dreamers day care from the basement of his Rockville home where the incidents allegedly occurred last year.
Circuit Court Judge John Maloney ordered a new trial for Divband, set to begin May 7.
In interviews Monday night and Tuesday, jurors said the panel split their discussions between what prosecutors alleged were separate events of child abuse at Little Dreamers: An assault of Millie Lilliston, 6 months old on April 13, 2016, that resulted in a fractured leg; another assault on Millie on April 19, 2016, that resulted in her death several days later.
Millie was the first child of Melanie Lilliston and Becky Williams., who testified in detail about how they'd visited different day cares, chose Little Dreamers because of its small size and proximity to their home, and how they felt good about the day care after Millie enrolled there. She and Divband's infant were the only children being cared for there.
“We were all moved by this entire case,” said one of the jurors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations, “and we took it all very seriously.”
According to interviews with four of the 12 jurors, the panel was leaning toward convicting Divband of at least some charges in the alleged April 19 incident.
Testimony showed when one of Millie's parents dropped her off at day care at 8 a.m. that day, she appeared healthy. Less than three hours later, as the parents were at their jobs in the District, one of them received a call from Divband's wife, who said Millie had stopped breathing and was in an ambulance with Divband on the way to the hospital.
The jurors who spoke after the mistrial was declared said medical testimony indicated that during that short time at the center that morning, Millie suffered bruises to her head, fractured ribs and brain injuries. The explanation Divband and his attorneys offered — during the trial that Millie suffered from fragile bones and she choked on milk — didn't sit well with many of the jurors, their four colleagues said.
“I think more happened than what he said,” said juror Larry Brooks, 69.
An autopsy showed Millie had 23 fractures to her ribs, two fractures to her left arm and three fractures to her legs. It wasn’t clear when every break occurred.
Brooks and two other jurors said a majority of the panel was leaning toward convicting Divband of first-degree child abuse leading to death.
“I got to the point where I felt that clearly something had happened on the 19th,” said another juror, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to maintain his privacy.
But a small number of jurors — at least two — said there was too much reasonable doubt about what happened April 19 to reach a decision of guilty, according to interviews with four of the jurors. The holdouts wanted to know exactly how Divband may have injured the child, which wasn’t presented during the trial, the four jurors said about the discussions.
Divband’s attorneys, Andrew Jezic and Terry McGann, declined to comment on their discussions with jurors after the trial. But they said they will be ready to retry the case. “We remain completely committed to showing Kia’s innocence,” Jezic said.
Prosecutors declined to comment Tuesday. But in court late Monday night, while talking to the judge, Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Wechsler forcefully said they wanted to go to trial again.
During their deliberations, jurors also tried to reach a decision on what may have happened at Little Dreamers on April 13 of last year.
The morning of April 14, according to the prosecutors’ case, Millie’s parents noticed swelling in her left leg. The parents thought it was from shots she had just received.
Later that day at his day-care center, Divband researched websites and did Google searches for "Broken Bones in Children," "Why are bone fractures in children sometimes hard to detect," and "Can you move your foot if your leg is broken," according to hiscomputer and cellphone records submitted at trial.
In his testimony, Divband told jurors that one of Millie's parents had told him about the swollen leg when she was dropped off for the day and that he was trying to figure out what the swelling was about, according to his testimony, and concluded the child's leg was not broken.
For the leg injury, jurors were asked to consider whether Divband had committed first-degree assault, second-degree assault, first-degree child abuse or second-degree child abuse, according to court records. At one point, according to three jurors, the panel voted to acquit Divband of the first-degree assault charge. But that vote didn’t hold up, according to three jurors, and the panel couldn’t agree on the other counts.
In general, according to jurors, there was less belief that Divband had committed crimes related to the fractured leg. One issue was that prosecutors could never say exactly when the injury occurred.
"I felt we needed to know more about when and how the injury occurred," said Brooks.
The jurors said there was consensus that Millie's parents had been involved and were attentive in their child's life.
The fact they didn't realize Millie had a fractured leg, prosecutors had said during the trial, was due in part to how babies don't always cry in the hours or days after such injuries occur. Brooks and another juror added that the medical advice the parents received over the phone — to watch the swelling to see if subsided — affected the jurors' thinking too.
"Most of use thought the parents were good," Brooks said. "It was all just very sad."