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10 1/2-year sentence for day care provider in Fairfax shaken baby case

A Fairfax County daycare provider who shook a four-month-old boy, causing lasting brain damage, was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison Friday, lawyers said.

The sentencing of Trudy E. Munoz Rueda, 45, for felony child abuse and child cruelty ended an emotionally charged hour-long hearing in which Judge Jan L. Brodie heard impassioned appeals from the parents of Noah Whitmer, Munoz’s husband and parents who spoke of the patience Munoz showed their children while they were in her care, according to prosecutors.

"It was not an easy day for anyone in court," said prosecutor Gregory Holt. "It was emotional."

Brodie, who could have reduced the sentence, upheld the verdicts reached by jurors in January. Before imposing the prison term, she judge said she could see the toll the case had taken on both families but would nevertheless maintain the sentencing totals reached by jurors.

"It is a tragic case all around," said Guillermo Uriarte, Munoz’s attorney.

Munoz ran a daycare center in her Franconia home and had been a licensed provider since 2004. The incident with Noah -- who suffered from seizures and sight issues, testimony showed -- occurred in April 2009.

The medical dispute turned on whether a baby can be shaken hard enough to cause the brain to bleed and create eye hemorrhaging while not leaving signs of other trauma -- to the neck or back, for example.

Munoz had told detectives and later testified that she had not shaken Noah. Her lawyers said the appearance of hemorrhages in the back of his eyes was from a chronic condition.

Uriarte said he will appeal. He intends to attempt to raise the differing conclusions that Fairfax juries reached over medical evidence in shaken baby cases: Munoz’s case was one of two recent trials in Fairfax Circuit Court in which a string of experts battled over what is known as “shaken baby syndrome.”

A Fairfax jury found Elmer J. Midence, 39, of Springfield, not guilty of murder in the death of his 8-month-old son, Albert, in March.

Midence said he had been in the shower with the baby and slipped and fell when he stepped out. Prosecutors said the child’s brain injury was consistent with shaken baby syndrome.

This item has been updated since it was first published.

-- Mary Pat Flaherty

By Mary Pat Flaherty  |  April 9, 2010; 4:48 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax , From the Courthouse , Mary Pat Flaherty , Updates  
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