SNOW HILL -- A Worcester County Circuit Court Judge found a Bishopville woman guilty of second-degree assault after her aggressive behavior toward a child she was babysitting was recorded on video.
Judge Richard Bloxom pronounced 20-year-old Carleigh R. Kufchak guilty of assault and sentenced her to one year in the Worcester County Jail with all but 30 days suspended. She was also sentenced to two years of probation and was instructed not to have any unsupervised contact with children under the age of 12 who were not members of her immediate family.
"It's serious criminal behavior," the judge said of her treatment of the eight-year-old legally blind and autistic child Kufchak was babysitting last June.
Bloxom acquitted Kufchak of charges of first-degree child abuse and reckless endangerment stemming from the June 2010 incident and found her not guilty of second-degree child abuse. Kufchak, the regular babysitter for the eight-year-old, was charged last year after a video camera the child's mother set up recorded Kufchak using physical force against the child, who in addition to being blind has a shunt to keep fluid from building up on her brain, and has a seizure disorder.
"Anyone knows you don't throw around an 8-year-old child that's half blind and has the problems this child has," Bloxom told the defendant. "I'd be surprised if you watched these videos and weren't ashamed of your conduct. You knew what you were doing was wrong."
During the day-long trial, Kufchak's lawyer Cullen Burke argued that she was not qualified to take care of the child, and that Kufchak's uses of force were not intended to hurt the child -- whom he described as defiant -- but to keep her from hurting herself in many cases. He had Kufchak narrate certain portions of the video, which was played in court with the sound off, to explain why she had done certain things. In one clip, she explained that she moved the girl away from a table only after telling her twice to get away from it because she could get hurt by its metal hinges.
"It was a safety issue," she testified.
When Assistant State's Attorney Diane Cuilhe asked her if she had used physical force on the child 10 times in a two-and-a-half-hour period, Kufchak nodded silently.
"She was never given permission by the mother to use any physical force," Cuilhe said. "They were gratuitous attacks."
Witnesses for the state included the child's doctors, who testified about her medical conditions, and her mother, who said she had made Kufchak aware of the child's medical issues. The child's mother also testified that on June 25, she installed the camera that recorded the video that showed Kufchak and her daughter that night while she was at work and watched it the next day. She said that same day, she also saw a bruise on the child's leg.
Bloxom granted the defense's motion to acquit Kufchak of the charges of first-degree child abuse and reckless endangerment at the midpoint of the trial, saying that he was not convinced there had been a substantial risk of death for the child. He denied acquittal of the assault and second-degree child abuse charges she faced, and later, after viewing the video multiple times, pronounced her guilty of assault.
He described one portion of the video this way: "The defendant grabs the child and shoves her down forcefully," he said. "That wasn't saving the child from any greater harm. It was purely shoving the child away because she didn't want to be bothered."
He said he was not persuaded the bruise the girl's mother saw was the result of Kufchak's interaction with the child.
Before sentencing, the child's mother told the judge she had trouble trusting anyone with her child now. "I have a hard time going to work," she said. The child's therapist also said that the now nine-year-old girl had also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Burke, speaking to the court during the sentencing phase, stressed his client had no criminal record.