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Baby sitter gets probation for brain injuries to baby

STERLING – A plea agreement Friday led to a baby sitter getting 30 months’ probation for seriously injuring an infant by shaking her – a penalty the judge acknowledged could be seen as a “slap on the wrist.”

Karyn McCallister, 42, of Sterling, pleaded guilty to reckless conduct in the 5-year-old case. That charge was one of two counts that had been filed against her by the state.

“I have this feeling that the public thinks that probation is, for lack of a better term, a slap on the wrist, that a more appropriate sentence is a sentence to the department of corrections,” Judge John Hauptman said.

In accepting the proposed plea deal negotiated by the state’s attorney and the defendant, Judge Hauptman said that the sentence should serve as a wake-up call.

Before handing down the sentence, the judge allowed Ann and Jacob Brandt, the parents of the now 5-year-old victim, to explain to the court just how McCallister’s actions had affected their family.

“Her walking away with just the 30 months, the judge even said it, it seems like a slap on the wrist,” Ann said after the hearing. “But knowing that she won’t ever be able to watch kids again, and that she has the felony conviction, it helps.”

The Brandts were told about the plea deal in advance of Monday’s hearing, and were joined by a large support group of friends and family. Their church congregation entirely filled the hard, wooden benches behind them.

As part of the terms of her sentence, McCallister may no longer provide child care to any juvenile who is not in her immediate family, and she is to have no contact with any member of the Brandt family.

McCallister, though she confessed in February 2009, wasn’t indicted until the following December on charges of aggravated battery of a child and reckless conduct.

“I can’t begin to imagine what this child’s family has gone through over the last 5 years,” Judge Hauptman said. “I cannot fathom the trauma that you have experienced over this period of time.”

Given the chance to address the court, the Brandts rose, one after the other, from their seats in the front row of the courtroom to describe the anxiety, anger and terror that they had experienced: a 6-day experience in a Peoria hospital during the winter of 2009, not knowing whether their daughter, Alayna, would survive the brain injuries McCallister had caused at her unlicensed daycare.

“I watched as my daughter’s heart rate would slow,” Jacob said. “You could see the life leaving her body.”

During their first few days at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, the Brandts went through round after round of questioning from police officers and doctors who, until McCallister confessed to shaking the child, suspected the Brandts of abuse.

Doctors found three subdural hematomas – clotted blood – in Alayna’s brain. Two were old, but one was fresh.

“We spent 6 full days in that hospital with my daughter almost dying because of you,” Jacob said, looking at McCallister as he spoke.

“We all knew there was a good chance she wouldn’t make it through surgery,” Ann said. “She is an angel, a miracle, that’s for sure.”

They spoke of the toll the experience took on them, on their relationships and their marriage. They talked about how they have had to deal with the anger, how the experience has made them hyper-concerned about their children’s safety, how they’re overprotective now. And how, someday, they’re going to have to face the terrifying task of explaining to their daughter the surgery scars on her body.

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