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Former Day Care Provider Acquitted in Child’s Death

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury on Wednesday decided that a former day-care provider in Aliso Viejo was not guilty of beating a 6-month-old boy, who died three years ago to the day.

Nine women and three men deliberated for nearly two days before acquitting Mary Suzanne Orlina, 37, of causing injuries to a child resulting in his death. The same jury also deadlocked 8 to 4 in favor of a guilty verdict on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, which includes deaths caused by accidents.

“It’s hard to take,” said Eric Vedder of Laguna Hills, the father of Kodi Vedder, who died of brain swelling and hemorrhage. “But we have to not let it ruin our lives any more than it already has. We have to move on.”

Orlina told investigators that the injuries resulted from an 18-inch fall from her sofa to the carpeted floor.

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During the trial, the prosecution argued that Orlina had assaulted the boy. Three physicians testified that the injuries most likely did not come from the reported accident.

Had Orlina been convicted, she would have faced a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Orlina is scheduled to return to court on May 22 for a pretrial hearing in connection with a second trial to determine if she’s responsible for involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, she would face a maximum sentence of four years.

Attorneys on both sides declined to comment about the verdict, citing the pending trial.

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In 1996, sheriff’s homicide detectives arrested Orlina following a 17-month investigation.

Kodi was asleep when his mother, Trish Vedder, picked him up from day care at Orlina’s house, where she found him sleeping unattended in his car seat, according to court documents. She noticed a bruise on his nose and asked Orlina what had happened. Orlina replied that he had fallen off the couch.

As Trish Vedder was putting Kodi in his crib at home, she noticed that he had stiffened and his eyes had rolled back, prosecutor Jim Tanizaki said during the trial. She and her husband called paramedics, who took Kodi to the hospital. He died the next day.

“We had anticipated that it would be a hard case [to prove], since there were no witnesses,” said Eric Vedder, 31, of Laguna Hills. He said they had hoped medical testimony would sway the jury.

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Under an agreement with the state’s Department of Social Services, which licenses day care facilities, Orlina agreed to be barred for life from operating or working in a care facility licensed by the state. During trial, several clients who have hired Orlina to care for their children testified on her behalf.


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