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10-year sentence for day-care provider in shaken baby case

A Fairfax County jury on Friday sentenced a day-care provider to more than 10 years in prison for shaking a four-month-old baby, causing him lasting brain damage.

The jury on Thursday evening convicted Trudy E. Munoz Rueda, 45, of felony child abuse and child cruelty. In April, she had been caring for Noah Whitmer at her home in the Franconia area when he suddenly went limp, then began having seizures followed by brain and eye hemorrhaging.

Munoz initially denied harming the baby. But a Fairfax social worker testified that Munoz told her "I imagine I shook him three times." On the witness stand, Munoz denied making that comment.

Munoz's defense team called experts from around the country to challenge the concept of "shaken baby syndrome," saying that science did not support the idea that brain damage could be caused in a baby merely by shaking, without any impact or signs of trauma on the head, neck, arms or torso.

Fairfax prosecutors responded with their own experts saying the brain damage could occur simply by shaking. The jury deliberated for five hours Thursday before convicting Munoz of felony child abuse and child cruelty.

On Friday, the jury considered sentences of two to 10 years on the abuse charge, and one to five years on the cruelty charge. They returned with verdicts of six years and six months on the abuse charge, and four years on the cruelty charge. In Virginia, sentences are run consecutively unless the judge elects to run them concurrently.

Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jan L. Brodie scheduled sentencing for April 10. She can reduce the sentence or impose the jury's sentence, but she cannot increase it.

Jurors could not be located at the courthouse after the verdict, and one juror reached at home declined to comment. Brodie advised them that if they were approached by the media, "your comments may be misquoted, taken out of context or misconstrued."

-- Tom Jackman

By Tom Jackman  |  January 22, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax , From the Courthouse , Tom Jackman , Updates  
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