Child care worker guilty of murder in child's death

Saturday, July 20, 2002


The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A child care worker was convicted Friday of second-degree murder in the death of an infant who was one of 19 children she cared for in her home.

The case was unusual because prosecutors did not try to prove Phyllis Mullins actually struck 4-month-old Jacob McGinnis the day he died in her home.

Rather, they said she was guilty of Jacob's death because she put all the children in danger by taking so many of them into a dangerously crowded home. She was also convicted of 19 counts of child endangerment -- one count for each of the children police say were in her home when Jacob died on April 11, 2001.

The Jackson County medical examiner testified Jacob's injuries resulted from someone slamming the baby's head against a solid surface in Mullins' home.

Prosecutors built their case largely on the testimony of several parents and two boys, 7 and 8, who told of a home where children were made drowsy with antihistamine and 6-year-olds watched over babies.

Health department records showed complaints dating as far back as 1992 that Mullins repeatedly had too many children in her home. Investigators said she was deceiving parents by keeping many children out of view.

"I felt so naive," said one parent, Tara Lickteig. "So many of us were first-time parents."

Mullins' attorney, Patrick Peters, argued in court Mullins gave the children excellent care. He said having too many children in her home was a violation of state child care regulations, not a felony crime.

University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Ellen Suni said it is a long-standing legal tradition to prosecute someone for murder if a person dies during the commission of a lesser crime.

But she said felony murder convictions are difficult because they collide with "one of the core principles of criminal law," that charges should reflect a "state of mind related to the crime that was committed."

Jackson County Prosecutor Bob Beaird said the state needs to consider increasing punishments against people who care for too many children in their homes.

Under current law, most day-care providers in that situation are charged with infractions punishable only by a fine. Beaird says the offense should be raised to a misdemeanor charge, which would allow prosecutors to get a search warrant and send officers inside a home.

Currently, if state investigators are refused entry into a day-care business suspected of being unlicensed, they must resort to surveillance to build a case, he said.

"That's not a very effective way to run a railroad," Beaird said.

Mullins was scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 29.

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